Have you ever fell to sleep one night feeling well, but only woke up to discover that you were having difficulty opening mouth? Well, believe it not this is a very common symptom that is linked to TMJ or temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder. When you first notice the onset of TMJ symptoms, they appear to be similar to that of an ear infection, but the two are entirely different.

Prevalence

TMJ is not discriminatory in how it chooses its victims. As a matter of fact, it affects men and women alike, but many experts agree that women are often the target. Over 10 million Americans have been diagnosed with this disorder according to NIH. It can be very disturbing to the victim to experience the symptoms that are linked to TMJ, which will most often warrant an emergency room visit.

Temporomandibular Joint

The temporomandibular joint is made up of the temporal bone and lower mandible (jawbone). This joint is responsible for controlling jaw movement, but if it becomes injured or damaged due to arthritic diseases, it will not function properly.

Signs of TMJ

As mentioned above TMJ can cause an earache-like pain that can radiate from behind the ear to the front, especially when attempting to open and close the mouth. Other common symptoms include joint and muscle stiffness and an audible popping/grating noise that occurs when the individual opens and closes their mouth.

You may also notice a slight alteration in how your upper and lower teeth fit together. The pain can be very severe at times, especially when chewing, yawning, or smiling. It is best to avoid these movements, if possible to decrease the stress placed on the joint. 

Some individuals will suffer from tinnitus (ringing in the ears), mild to moderate headache, and vertigo (dizziness). Swelling, redness, and warmth on the affected side of the face can also be exhibited. If you’re suffering from pain behind the ear, it is likely TMJ.

Causes of TMJ

TMJ has been linked to a long list of contributing factors including: 

  • Excessive facial grimacing
  • Grinding of teeth
  • Injuries or impact blows to the joint
  • Disk erosion, which leads to improper jaw alignment
  • Chronic arthritis

Diagnosis of TMJ

As mentioned above, many victims will first think that the source of their pain is an earache or sinusitis. You may need to undergo a physical exam, in which the physician will use an otoscope to look into the ear canal to see if you have an ear infection. When the ear infection is ruled out, a thorough examination of the temporomandibular joint will be conducted. The joint will be slightly larger due to the inflammation around the joint and this is a sure sign of TMJ.

Treatment

Most TMJ cases will heal on their own with a little rest, warm moist compresses, and NSAIDs (ibuprofen). More severe cases, in which the jaw locks, will require surgery to repair the damaged joint and to potentially realign the jaw.

Conclusion

If you are suffering from TMJ, it is vital to avoid stressful jaw movements such as yawning and chewing gum. Eat soft foods until the joint has time to completely heal.

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