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Taking a bite out of a sandwich after a long day of work or eating some ice cream after a hot summer day should not bring you more pain than pleasure. Feeling pain, discomfort, and lack of range of motion in the jaw area isn’t fun, and you should consider visiting your dentist to discuss the possibility of having TMJ disorder. But what is TMJ, and how do you know you have it? You’ve come to the right place, as here are some of the early warning signs of TMJ and what you can do to enjoy eating again.

What You Need to Know About TMJ

TMJ disorder originates in the temporomandibular (tem-puh-roe-man-DIB-u-lur) joint — try saying that three times in a row! — which connects your jaw to your skull and is just as important as it sounds. The joint has the responsibility of range of motion — from side to side movement and opening and closing— and the pressure of chewing. When this is compromised, you find it difficult to do everyday tasks like drinking, eating, and even speaking.

Warning Signs of TMJ

TMJ forms in different ways for each individual, as it can be a combination of genetic history, a previous or recent jaw injury, or arthritis. Jaw pain occurs at times and usually returns in cycles, so how can you be sure if you have TMJ? Take note of a few of these early warning signs to help you decide how to move forward.

  • Pain or tenderness in the jaw area

  • Dull ache in the muscles around your jaw

  • Pain in and around the ear

  • Pain or difficulty chewing

  • Frequent headaches/migraines

  • Pops or clicks in the jaw area accompanied by pain

  • Grinding teeth

Seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing:

  • Blurred vision

  • Difficulty closing and opening your mouth

  • Jaw locking in different positions

  • Top and bottom teeth change location when you close your mouth

Additional Risk Factors

Early warning signs of TMJ aren’t just associated with current symptoms. You may be at risk of developing TMJ if you relate with any of these additional risk factors:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis/Osteoarthritis/Fibromyalgia

  • Chronic teeth grinding

  • Recent or long-lasting jaw injury

  • Teeth or bite that isn’t aligned

  • Stress-related habits (chewing gum all day or grinding teeth during sleep)

Treatment Options for TMJ

Minor signs and symptoms of TMJ can be treated with the following:

  • Relaxation: Try to close your jaw and focus on not grinding or chewing to rest your teeth, or engage in stress-relieving activities such as meditation or yoga.

  • Over-the-counter medications: Over-the-counter medications provide relief for your pain and can help you to relax and sleep comfortably.

  • Eating soft foods: Your mouth will thank you for eating foods that don’t put too much stress on your jaw or the muscles surrounding it.

While most jaw pain cases tend to be minor, more severe cases of TMJ usually involve treatment options such as:

  • Stabilization splints/mouthguard

  • Anti-inflammatory medications

  • Jaw exercises

  • Implants

  • Botox treatments

Surgical procedures are often last-resort options, and most TMJ cases can follow a combination of these treatments to sufficiently aid in restoring functionality and comfort in the area.

DON’T Ignore the Signs of TMJ!

While jaw pain is fairly common and oftentimes resolves on its own, suffering from multiple signs of TMJ can indicate a more serious issue. Avoiding these signs is an unnecessary risk that could lead to longer and more costly health problems.

When in doubt, schedule an appointment with your local TMJ clinic. Contact Aesthetic Smiles — Portland’s one-stop-shop for all restorative dental needs — and get the care you need to ease your pain and get you back to enjoying the benefits of using your jaw!

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