Millions of Americans suffer from chronic facial and neck pain as well as recurring headaches. In some cases, this pain is due to Temporomandibular Disorder, or TMD.
Your temporomandibular joints (TMJ) connect your lower jawbone to your skull. These joints get a lot of use throughout the day as you speak, chew, swallow, and yawn. Pain in and around these joints can be unpleasant and may even restrict movement.
Symptoms of TMD include:
Pain in the jaw area
Pain, ringing, or stuffiness in the ears
Frequent headaches or neck aches
Clicking or popping sound when the jaw moves
Swelling on the sides of the face
Muscle spasms in the jaw area
A change in the alignment of top and bottom teeth
Locked jaw or limited opening of the mouth
TMD can be treated in many ways, depending on your diagnosis. Non-surgical options include short-term, non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs for pain and muscle relaxation, bite plate or splint therapy, and even stress management counseling.
If non-surgical treatment is unsuccessful or there is clear joint damage, oral surgery may be necessary. The surgical treatment of TMD can involve either arthroscopy or direct jaw surgery, depending on the extent of the damage.
Prevention is Always the Best Medicine
There are a few simple steps you can take at home or work to prevent TMD from becoming more severe, or to prevent it from occurring in the first place:
Relax your face — remember the rule: “Lips together, teeth apart”
Avoid grinding your teeth
Avoid constant gum chewing
Don’t cradle the phone receiver between your head and shoulder — either use a headset or hold the receiver in your hand
Chew food evenly on both sides of your mouth
Do not sit with your chin resting on your hand
Practice good posture — keep your head up, back straight, and shoulders squared