The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, connects the mandible and temporal bone of the skull and is involved in chewing, biting, speaking and swallowing. TMJ disorders affect an estimated 10 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health. A dull ache or pain in the jaw that spreads to the ear or head is the most common symptom of TMJ disorders. Other symptoms include problems opening the mouth, clicking or popping sounds when moving the jaw, headaches, neck and shoulder pain, and facial swelling. According to the TMJ Association, most cases of TMJ syndrome improve without treatment, but some develop into long-term, disabling conditions without medical intervention.
Avoid eating hard foods and chewing gum. Repetitive chewing and stress on the jaw caused by crunching hard items can bring on an attack of TMJ symptoms or make existing symptoms worse. It is very important to rest your jaw as much as possible.
Alternate your position while sitting for prolonged periods and maintain a healthy posture. If you work at a desk or spend a lot of time on the computer, get up and walk around frequently to improve circulation and relieve muscle strain.
Take over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and pain relievers, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, to reduce inflammation and to make chewing tolerable.
Try a prescription-strength pain reliever, muscle relaxant, or anti-inflammatory if over-the-counter medications are not strong enough to reduce TMJ symptoms.
Visit your dentist for a complete oral evaluation. Improper bite can sometimes cause TMJ symptoms, and your symptoms may disappear once your bite is corrected.
Apply warm compresses to the jaw area periodically throughout the day. Leave the compress on the area for 20 to 30 minutes, then slowly open and close the jaw for several minutes to loosen the joint.
Wear a prescription bite plate or splint while you sleep. The splint will prevent you from grinding your teeth, reduce jaw clenching and ease muscle tension.
Get a shot of cortisone medication directly into the joint to reduce pain and inflammation. Cortisone injections provide quick relief for many people.
Control your anxiety and stress through biofeedback, psychotherapy or medication. Stress is strongly linked to TMJ disorders, according to the National Institutes of Health, and reducing the amount of stress and anxiety you experience may alleviate your TMJ symptoms completely.
Schedule an appointment with a surgeon for a procedure called arthrocentesis. This minimally invasive procedure is done using general anaesthesia or IV sedation and involves flushing the jaw joints with fluid and anesthetic to clear out fluids.
Ask your doctor about surgical treatment for TMJ. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, surgery can be performed to replace the natural jaw joint with an artificial implant. This procedure is irreversible, however, and should be used only as a last resort.