TMJ is a shorter way to refer to a set of common problems, called temporomandibular joint disorders. Basically, your jaw makes a joint with the rest of your skull just in front of each ear. It’s very common for something to go wrong in this joint, causing pain in the surrounding muscle and bone. TMJ may also cause you to have a limited range of motion in your jaw or, in some patients, the inability to open or close their mouth at all.
If you think you might have TMJ, the easiest way to confirm a diagnosis is to get a dental x-ray. A doctor or dentist may also touch a few places on your jaw to check for pain, ask you to demonstrate your jaw’s range of motion, or listen closely for any clicking noises when you open or close your mouth.
Simple treatments include using a hot or cold compress, taking an over the counter analgesic, avoiding certain foods, and taking to simple steps to limit jaw movement, such as making the decision not to chew gum. Your dentist may also recommend simple exercises to strengthen and stretch the surrounding muscles.
The cause of TMJ can be difficult to determine, but a common associated problem is a habit of grinding teeth. Someone with TMJ may even have the habit without knowing it, especially if they grind their teeth when they are sleeping. If you suspect that you or a loved one grind their teeth at night, the simplest treatment is for the night grinder to wear a special mouthguard called a nightguard before they go to bed. This protects the teeth from the strain of constantly being ground at night. If night grinding still aggravates your TMJ, you may benefit from asking your dentist to create a custom nightguard or custom mouthguard.
In rare cases, taking these relatively steps is not enough, and you may need a surgical intervention.