Have you ever experienced lockjaw? Do you know that sensation where it feels like your jaw is locked in place? It can be a very painful condition and sometimes happen without any warning, causing one’s anxiety levels to shoot up. It also takes a while for the pain to peak, thus causing your jaw to be locked for hours.
Lockjaw is often the butt of jokes, particularly among more risqué comedians, but for sufferers, this can be a genuinely painful condition. It could also be the symptom of more serious conditions such as cancer or a tetanus infection. But for the majority of people, lockjaw is a treatable condition. Dentists refer to this condition as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder.
What Is TMJ Disorder?
The TMJ themselves are the joints that connect your jaw to your skull, and they serve in much the same way that our elbows and knees do. It allows for mobility for our mouths. Most people attribute the pain in their jaw to vigorous chewing, and while that could indeed be a cause, there are other factors that you need to consider.
Dentists say that stress, teeth grinding, and rheumatoid arthritis are some of the most common causes of pain in your jaw. People who are also most at risk of developing TMJ include women aged 18 to 44, people with posture (neck strain could cause abnormalities in your jaw function), and people with misaligned teeth. ;
Symptoms of TMJ Disorder
Apart from jaw pain and frozen jaws, TMJ sufferers also report suffering from:
- Pain in both or one side of the TMJ
- Chewing difficulties or inability to chew
- Facial pain, particularly around the mouth and nose area
They might also hear clicking noises when they open and close their mouths or feel a grating sensation. But most experts agree that if these two symptoms are not accompanied by pain, there is no need for the patient to seek treatment.
Treatments for TMJ Disorder
To this day, there is still some debate as to whom a person suffering from TMJ should consult, a medical doctor or a dentist? There are hardly any professionals dealing solely with TMJ, thus making it difficult to diagnose. But, generally, people seek treatment from dentists when they suspect that they could be suffering from this disorder.
If you are diagnosed with TMJ disorder, most dentists will recommend conservative treatment before they consider surgery. These will include over-the-counter pain medication or muscle relaxants, jaw stretching exercises, and wearing mouth guards over the teeth (to prevent teeth grinding). Some dentists might also recommend counseling or psychotherapy for education and to deal with any underlying mental issues causing the disorder.
In some rare cases, dentists might also recommend surgical treatments. For example, they say that dental implants are beneficial for patients who develop TMJ disorder because of a missing tooth. If the pain is severe, orthodontists will also recommend total joint replacement, which will require an extended stay in the hospital.
TMJ disorder could be within the purview of doctors or dentists, but, ultimately, it is up to you with whom you would feel most comfortable to consult. The most important thing is to see someone as you suspect that something is wrong with you. Prolonged suffering from TMJ disorder could cause the deterioration of your joints, your oral health, and even your hearing.