Could Your Jaw Pain Be TMJ?

Your jaw pain may be a common disorder called TMJ.


The Daily Grind

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Temporomandibular joint disorder -- known as TMJ -- is a tongue twister that affects the jaws of more than 10 million people in the United States, mostly women. Its most common symptoms include a clicking or popping sound every time you open or close the mouth, facial tenderness, or the feeling of your jaw momentarily "being stuck." This discomfort stems from the temporomandibular joint located in front of each earlobe, which connects the lower jaw bone to the skull.

No one's really certain what causes TMJ but one thing is for sure -- it's exacerbated by stress. Many cases of TMJ go undiagnosed, because symptoms such as headaches, earaches, dizziness, ringing in the ears, neck pain, and tenderness of the jaw muscles can be confused with other conditions. "Dentists and physicians do not study TM disorders, so only the most astute clinicians will pick it up," says Michael Gelb, a clinical professor at the New York University College of Dentistry.

If facial discomfort and jaw pain persist for more than a month, visit a specialist who regularly treats TMJ. He or she may suggest a night guard designed to keep your jaw in a relaxed position inhibiting clenching and grinding, as well as other therapies. Find a specialist through the referral services at the American Academy of Orofacial Pain, aaop.org.

Conservative Cures

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  • Eat soft foods.
  • Massage the masseter muscles on each side of the jaw by placing your thumb inside the mouth (wash up first) and gently squeezing the muscle in the cheek.
  • Short-term use of anti-inflammatory pain medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen.
  • Good posture while working at the computer.
  • Stress reduction techniques, such as yoga or meditation.
  • Avoid clenching your teeth. "Always remember, 'lips together, teeth apart,'" says Dr. Michael Gelb, a dentist in private practice in New York City.
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