TMJ: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments
Temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ, is a jaw disorder that at its most basic may cause minor pain and at its most involved may include myriad overlapping conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. Because pain in the jaw can result from so many things, it's critical to have a thorough physical exam to figure out the root cause before a diagnosis is made. Yet doctors admit that much of the time, TMJ has them stumped. Here's what to know about this mysterious malady:
TMJ is fairly common. About 35 million people in this country suffer from some form of TMJ problem. And while it can affect anyone, most TMJ sufferers are women of childbearing age.
TMJ can have a multitude of symptoms. A person with TMJ typically experiences jaw pain upon chewing or opening the mouth. This pain can radiate to other areas, including the ears, neck and shoulders. The person may also experience a popping, clicking or grating sound when opening or closing the mouth, jaw stiffness or an inability to open the mouth all the way, a bite that doesn't feel aligned, and difficulty speaking and swallowing. But jaw trouble isn't always present—there are other signs of TMJ that may at first glance have little to do with the jaw. These include headaches, difficulty hearing, dizziness, and vision troubles.
Doctors aren't always sure what causes TMJ. A common cause of TMJ is arthritis, which may simultaneously affect other areas of the body. TMJ also may result from injury. Or it could be a result of genes, your own particular hormonal mix, infection, and even certain dental treatments.
Hypersensitivity to pain is typical in TMJ sufferers. Doctors believe this characteristic of TMJ patients is linked to the fact that they frequently suffer from other chronic pain conditions.
TMJ's progress varies from person to person. Many TMJ sufferers have mild or moderate symptoms. These often resolve on their own or after the patient practices self care such as eating soft foods, avoiding opening the mouth wide, and applying heat or ice. Unfortunately, some TMJ sufferers experience a progressive worsening of the condition and long-term pain. In such cases, jaw surgery may be recommended.
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