Temporomandibular joint dysfunction, generally shortened to TMJ or TMD, can be a painful and debilitating chronic illness, made all the more frustrating by the mysteriousness of its causes. Medical science remains unsure of the causes of TMJ, and while various conditions and injuries have been tentatively linked to the onset of TMJ, most dentists prefer to apply a range of treatments to cover all possible sources of jaw pain.
With this in mind, you may be reluctant to undergo surgical procedures to try and correct your TMJ. Although in some advanced cases surgery is really the only viable treatment option, many people who suffer from TMJ receive great benefits and relief from a number of non-surgical treatment options.
Many people with TMJ regularly take painkillers to control the pain in their jaws -- they are also effective against the headaches that often accompany the condition. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen are best for this, as they also help to reduce inflammation of the muscles around the jaw, reducing tenderness and visible swelling.
If doses available over the counter are not sufficient to control your jaw pain, your dentist may prescribe you with higher doses. However, painkillers are not an effective long-term solution, and can cause some nasty side effects if taken excessively, so it's important to explore other treatment options alongside painkiller usage.
As a medication-free alternative to pain relief, consider using ice packs on your jaw for short periods to numb pain and reduce swelling. Following up an ice pack by administered moist heat, such as with a warm, damp towel, can help decrease jaw stiffness.
The pain of TMJ is often accompanied by stiffness of the jaw, which can make speaking and eating properly difficult. Ask your dentist about physical therapy -- they may be able to refer you to a physiotherapist, who will help you through a routine of jaw exercises. These exercises are designed to strengthen and loosen the muscles and tendons that hold the jaw in place, and may also help to correct an improper bite that may be the source of the pain. They may also offer massage, and assistance with muscle relaxation techniques.
Splints and mouth guards
These simple devices are inserted into the mouth and form a barrier between the tow rows of teeth, with the aim of correcting your jaw's position and preventing bruxism (tooth grinding) that may be contributing to your jaw pain. They can be worn at night or during the day, but must be kept sanitary to avoid dental infections. If you choose to use a splint, acquire one from your dentist that is specially crafted to fit your teeth -- a dental technician will assemble one customised to your bite and mouth shape.
A relatively new addition to the field of dental pain relief, TENS machines are applied to the skin and deliver small, harmless doses of electrical current to the muscles beneath the skin. TENS machines are used to control a variety of bodily aches and pains, and some patients may find them very helpful when it comes to relieving TMJ pain -- however, their effectiveness varies significantly between patients.