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Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction

What is the TMJ?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ), connects the upper and lower jawbones. This joint allows the jaw to open wide and move back and forth when you chew, talk, or yawn. Painful TMJ problems occur in people who overuse or abuse this joint through teeth grinding, constant clenching and unclenching of the jaw, or excessive gum chewing. Sometimes people are born with a misalignment of the jaw that can bring on similar symptoms.

What causes TMJ pain?

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Pain can be a serious source of pain and dysfunction.  Symptoms of degenerative disease in this joint include dysfunction or pain in the head, face, jaws, neck and shoulders. In some cases a dentist may need to create an oral retainer to allow the joint to rest and let healing begin. Subsequent to that, a physical therapist can treat to minimize the pain in the jaw or neck with a targeted exercise program. There are many causes of TMJ pain. Repeated chewing (for example, chewing gum) and clenching your teeth can cause pain in the joint. Some TMJ pain has no obvious cause.

What can I do to ease the pain?

There are many things you can do to help your pain get better. When you have pain:

Eat soft foods and stay away from chewy foods (for example, taffy)
Try to use both sides of your mouth to chew
Don’t chew gum
Don’t open your mouth wide (for example, during yawning or singing)
Don’t bite your cheeks or fingernails
Lower your amount of stress and worry
Applying a warm, damp washcloth to the joint may help.
Over-the-counter pain medicines such as ibuprofen (one brand: Advil) or acetaminophen (one brand: Tylenol) might also help. Do not use these medicines if you are allergic to them or if your doctor told you not to use them.

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