Because it may indicate a serious dental issue such as an abscess or infection, persistent pain in the jaw is always a cause for worry. Such pain may also be the sign of a less well known condition called temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ, as it is commonly known. This article will increase your knowledge of TMJ by answering three of the most frequently asked questions.

What causes TMJ?

TMJ doesn't have just a single cause, which is part of what makes it a difficult condition to accurately diagnose. In general, most TMJ stems from an intense and persistent stress affecting the muscles around your temporomandibular joint--that is, the hinge at the back of your jaw. Determining what causes this stress is where things get a lot more complicated, as it may be related to both physical and mental conditions.

One common cause of TMJ is dental malocclusion, in other words teeth that don't line up the way they should. As a result, uneven pressure is exerted on the jaw. This subjects one side to a much higher degree of stress, thus leading to the development of TMJ. Likewise, TMJ may be caused by persistent bad habits, such as always chewing food with one side of the mouth, or excessive gum chewing and nail biting.

Mental and emotional conditions are also capable of increasing your overall stress load. Many people tend to carry such stress in the muscles of their face and jaw. As time goes on, this can place a greater and greater amount of stress on the temporomandibular joint, eventually even leading to the development of TMJ.

What are some other symptoms?

Though persistent pain is the most common symptom of TMJ, it is not the only one. Other ways to tell you may be suffering from TMJ include:

  • difficulty in opening the mouth up wide
  • clicking or popping sounds when opening the mouth
  • difficulty chewing food
  • frequent headaches or earaches
  • sensitivity to light

It's worth mentioning such symptoms the next time you visit your dentist, who will evaluate whether they are signs of TMJ. If not, your dentist will likely refer you to a medical doctor, who will be able to help pin down the true cause. In no case should you ignore symptoms such as these.     

How is TMJ treated?

Mild or infrequent TMJ can often bet treated through home therapy. Eating soft foods, utilizing heat and cold pads, and avoiding extreme jaw movements are often sufficient to alleviate the discomfort of TMJ. To help ease the pain and swelling of more serious TMJ, your dentist may opt to prescribe medication. Ultimately though, the cure for most TMJ lies in positive behavioral modifications. 

To learn more about TMJ disorders, dental implants, and tooth extraction by Frizzell Dental, speak to your dentist today.