A critical component of this operation occurs at a location known as the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ for short.
This structure exists between the temporal bone of the skull, and the mandible, or lower jaw bone. If you place your finger just in front of your ear as you open and close your mouth, you may feel the motion of the TMJ. In order to glide and move, this joint is classified as a synovial joint. Synovial fluid is produced by the body and acts to lubricate the joint so the bones don’t rub against one another and progressively wear down. The combination of gliding and hinge motions also makes this a very unique and complex joint. Most joints in the body are classified based on a single motion, such as the gliding joints in the wrist or the hinge motion of your elbow. You may already be thinking of what could possibly go wrong with this system, so it’s time to settle your curiosity.
Causes of TMD
Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) can occur due to a variety of issues, but for most individuals, the pains are temporary and resolve without treatment.
1- One cause of TMD may occur as a result of trauma. For example, during a boxing match, one of the contenders may get knocked on the left side of the face. The TMJ relies on a very specific placement to allow for its unique motions, and when displaced the bones can contact one another and cause damage, they can become dislocated, or they can fracture.
TMJ injuries become especially dangerous in children leading to some surprising symptoms such as misalignment of the teeth as they close their mouth, facial asymmetry, and growth disturbance as they develop. These symptoms require orthodontics or potentially reconstructive surgery of the TMJ depending on the extent of the damage.
2-Rheumatoid arthritis is another significant cause of jaw pain. This chronic, autoimmune, inflammatory disorder occurs as a result of the body’s inappropriate reaction to its own processes. The agents involved in the inflammatory processes are known as cytokines, secreted by the cells of the immune system. When cells within the synovial fluid start releasing these cytokines, the area becomes swollen and the individual experiences pain. Current estimates see TMD in 4-80% of patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
This swelling becomes worse with movement such as chewing as the body interprets this as further aggravation, and therefore, swells even more. This impacts the individual’s ability to properly breakdown their food and release the nutrients contained within, leading to a potential nutrient deficiency which carries a whole host of other issues.
3- Ear pain or even
4- Hearing loss due to the proximity of the TMJ to the ear canal.
5- Nausea, or
6- Dizziness and vertigo as it impacts the careful balance system within the ear.
7- Swelling of the face as the cytokines collect in that particular region.
Some tips to manage your jaw pain:
- Get fitted for a mouth guard. Some individuals are prone to grinding their teeth at night which not only wears down the enamel and tooth structure, but it also puts stresses on the TMJ. This happens because grinding causes the four muscles of mastication to tense up. If this happens for extended periods of time, the muscles will be tender upon waking. A mouth guard can prevent the wear on your teeth, but it also keeps your upper and lower jaw slightly separated which can relax the muscles slightly.
- Exercise that jaw. Like any muscle group, the more regularly you stretch them, the less prone they become to injury. A quick search through the internet will return a variety of motions, but it is always better to discuss the appropriate exercise in your case. Some finds during your search may require a range of motion that is too painful, or could further exacerbate the condition. If your TMJ has suffered a trauma, you will likely be allowed to do some during your sub-acute and chronic phases of healing.
- Symptomatic relief. Products such as Joint Pain Relief may be able to help with TMJ pain. The main ingredient of the product is a dry extract of Devil’s Claw. The active component of the root is harpagoside which has been shown to inhibit certain cytokines and therefore, reduce inflammation. Promising research on mice has also showed that harpagoside may encourage the regeneration of bone by increasing the activity of the body’s bone builders, known as osteoblasts, and inhibiting the activity of the cells that break down the bone, osteoclasts.
- Relaxation techniques. Individuals commonly hold tension in areas such as their shoulders and jaw. Mindfulness techniques can help you check in with your body to see if you have any tension in your jaw. A useful way to do this is setting a reminder to go off periodically throughout the day when individuals often find themselves completely engrossed in their work.