If your jaw periodically clicks when you eat, you may be faced with temporomandibular joint syndrome, or TMJ. While the noise may be annoying now, it can develop into a painful condition where it hurts every time you eat. Here is what has happened to your jaw and how it can be treated before it causes you real health problems.
Bone and Cartilage Degeneration Causes TMJ
Your upper and lower jaw bones are connected at the back of your mouth with small pieces of cartilage. This is the temporomandibular joint and it allows you to open and close your mouth and move your jaw around while chewing. Should the bones or cartilage in the joint become worn down by a disease or degenerative process, friction can develop in the joint. This causes the clicking noise you hear and a slight "catch" in your jaw when you chew. Painful inflammation develops in the area making it difficult to eat.
What You Experience With TMJ
As the degeneration progresses, you may experience a number of symptoms, including:
- pain in the muscles in your upper back, neck and shoulders
- headaches due to irritation of the nerves in the area of the temporomandibular joint
- increase in the volume of the click so that people around you can hear it
- tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, due to the nerve irritation
Treatment of TMJ
This is not curable, so treatment is focused on removing the pain and keeping the degeneration from getting worse. Your doctor will try one or more non-invasive approaches first to give you some relief. If they aren't enough, surgery is the next option.
Some of the common non-invasive approaches to treatment include:
- Oral appliances worn in the mouth to maintain the alignment of the jaw bones. If your bite is off due to the worn jaw bones, these devices will help restore a proper bite.
- Braces may be applied and left on your teeth for long periods to restore alignment of the jaw bones.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) units send a small electrical current into the temporomandibular joint to temporarily relieve headaches, neck and upper back pain.
Surgical approaches include:
- Removal of bony growths in the temporomandibular joint area to reduce irritation, inflammation and pain.
- Reconstruction of the temporomandibular joint to allow the jaw bones to move together while staying in proper alignment.
After surgery, you may need to use an appliance or wear braces to support the jaw bones as they heal. To learn more, contact a clinic like Altoona Center For Oral Surgery & Maxillofacial Surgery.