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TMJ: Causes and Treatments for Temporomandibular Joint Disorders

Updated on April 12, 2013

TMJ Massage

My own Experience with TMJ Headaches

I'm not exactly sure when it started, but since I was really young, I've had migraines so often that for a while there I got used to them. I remember my dad taking me to the doctor so I could tell her about how I felt like my head was clogged (yes, that's the exact word I used) and how I didn't understand what was the big deal. This visit, of course, was followed by a CAT Scan which showed that my brain was completely fine. I continued to suffer ever since, with the pain ever growing to epic proportions.

For a while there, I believed that this was just a problem I had to deal with for the rest of my life. I even stopped taking any ibuprofen or other medications to help ease it. Little did I realize, I had so many underlying issues that had gone unnoticed for so many years that actually may have attributed to this ever growing pain. My teeth grinding at night certainly had to do with it. I have also suffered from sleep paralysis experiences as well as nail-biting that leave my jaw exhausted and tense.

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Causes for TMJ

It wasn't until recently that I was actually told I may have a TMJ disorder. TMJ, or Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, has to do with problems with the jaw, jaw joint, and surrounding facial muscles that help with chewing or moving the jaw in any way. Usually, they are simply called TMJ, which is incorrect because that is the name for the joint itself. It is actually referred to as TMD, which stands for Temporomandibular Disorder.

Four common causes of TMD are:

  1. Grinding or clenching teeth
  2. Dislocation of the soft cushion or disc between the ball or socket
  3. Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in the TMJ
  4. Stress

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Symptoms of TMJ

There are some days that, not only does my head feel like it's about to crack open and spew fire, but my jaw feels so tight and painful that I can't speak, yawn, or chew my food without discomfort. I sit there with my hands on my face, massaging that spot by my earlobes on either side that just can't seem to relax and let me live in peace.

People with TMD experience severe pain and discomfort that is either temporary or lasts for years, like me. More women than men experience it between 20 and 40 years old. Here are a few common symptoms:

  1. Pain or tenderness in the face, jaw joint area, neck, shoulders, and around the ear when you chew, speak, or open your mouth
  2. Limited ability to open mouth
  3. Jaws that get "stuck" or "locked" (open or closed)
  4. Clicking, popping, or grating sounds in the jaw joint (which may or may not hurt)
  5. Tired feeling in the face
  6. Difficulty chewing or a sudden bite that feels like the upper and lower teeth don't fit together properly
  7. Swelling on one or both sides of the face
  8. Toothaches
  9. Headaches
  10. Neck aches
  11. Dizziness
  12. Earaches
  13. Hearing problems
  14. Upper shoulder pain
  15. Ringing in the ears

Suffering from migraines is never fun.
Suffering from migraines is never fun. | Source

Treatment for TMJ

I finally went to the doctor recently when I discovered that when someone describes blinding pain they literally mean you are in so much pain that you are in fact blind. She gave me some advice to help treat it but the one important thing she told me is that my dentist (or a specialist) is the one I should be talking to. So, if you feel like you may have TMD, ask your dentist about it on your next visit.

One important thing to note is that any TMJ related problems are not covered by insurance. When I went to the doctor, I didn't know this initially so I'm lucky that I claimed that by visit was due to a migraine and not TMJ issues. The doctor told me that this is why it's best to ask your dentist about it during a regular visit. If you were to see him/her specifically for TMJ problems, your insurance may not cover it.

Some of the things I've done to help manage my TMJ issues, as advised for my doctor are as follows (please note that these may not work for everyone so talk to your own doctor or dentist first about treatment):

  1. Quit chewing my nails. This was something I did before my visit but I realized that it's a habit that needs to die once and for all instead of reoccurring every other year or so.
  2. Quit chewing gum. This wasn't difficult because I hate chewing gum but people were telling me that it would help. Turns out chewing gum is the worst thing you can do for this problem.
  3. Quit the caffeine. I used to drink coffee everyday, then I switched to energy drinks. Now I just drink water. I was exhausted for the first few days as it made waking up at 5:00 in the morning even worse than before but at this point it's worth it as it's actually begun to make a considerable difference. Yes, I had some headaches from the withdrawals but it's not like I wasn't having those beforehand anyway.
  4. Exercise. I recently got a new puppy that gives me new reason to go walking more often. I've also begun to exercise more at my local gym. This helps me manage my stress better so that I'm less likely to start clenching my jaw at the first sign of anything that may cause me stress.
  5. Watch what I eat and drink. The doctor recommended I start the Migraine Diet. I looked it up and basically immediately decided it wasn't for me. I've provided the link to the right if you're interested. Instead of following it completely, I've eliminated what I know I can do without such as candy, cheese, and certain fruits.
  6. Hot compress. I haven't used this one yet but the doctor told me to use a hot compress on my jaw to relieve pain.
  7. Massage. I also haven't tried this one out but I doubt it wouldn't help. TMJ problems affect your neck and shoulders just as much as it does your face so a massage helps with alleviate that pain and also relieve stress.

Although I am not free of my migraines, knowing the cause and how to treat it helps. I also know where to go to get more answers to perhaps get a complete cure soon. For those who suffer from the same thing, I hope my story and what I've learned might help you too.

© 2012 LisaKoski


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    • novascotiamiss profile image

      novascotiamiss 4 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

      This is a very interesting hub. I had never heard of the condition and am amazed that it's not covered by health insurance. It reminds me of my vitamin B deficiency which can lead to all kinds of life threatening neurological disorders but the medication is not covered. Thank goodness the B12 tables I'm taking are not expensive. I'm sure many people with migraine suffer from TMJ and don't even know about it. I'm glad we have the internet and can read up on new discoveries. Unfortunately most doctors stick to their old textbooks and are not willing to accept new diseases or conditions. Thanks for sharing this, I'm sure it will be useful to many patients.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      My sister in law suffers from TMJ. I'll forward your hub to her as I'm sure she'll find it useful and perhaps helpful.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker suzettetaos 4 years ago from Taos, NM

      Sorry to hear you suffer from this. This is informative as I didn't know about TMJ. I had heard of it, but you are the first person I have come across that has it. Chronic illnesses like this are difficult, but you seem to have learned how to handle it. Good luck in the future and thanks for sharing your experiences with us.

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