If you are one of the estimated 10 million Americans suffering from temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ disorder), you’ll likely be thrilled to learn that all you need to ease your TMJ disorder pain is a little R&R (rest and relaxation) – or at least that’s what a recent headline implied. But unfortunately for many TMJ disorder sufferers, rest and relaxation isn’t only impractical, but also downright ineffective. So, why would a headline imply this? And what really helps to alleviate TMJ disorder pain?
Temporomandibular joint disorder is a condition that occurs when the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) of the jaw is misaligned, causing dysfunction and serious pain in areas such as the jaw, head, neck, shoulders and back. It can even cause tinnitus (ear ringing), migraine headaches, bruxism (teeth grinding), and the inability to open and close the jaw. Dr. Alexandra George is a Wexford, Pennsylvania, dentist who treats patients with temporomandibular joint disorder. She says there are many things patients can do to alleviate symptoms of the condition, but that there is no “one size fits all” treatment that works for everyone.
“Temporomandibular joint disorders can be as diverse to treat as the patients who have them, because TMJ disorder can have many causes and many effects,” George says.
For example, one patient may have a disorder exacerbated by teeth grinding that also causes jaw pain and neck pain. Subsequently, that patient may find relief with a mouth guard that prevents teeth grinding, while another patient who does not grind her teeth may suffer from migraines and jaw stiffness but may not require a mouth guard. The combination of symptoms and causes make TMJ disorders a unique and painful puzzle for sufferers to figure out – and that’s exactly why sensational headlines like the one claiming that “relaxation” and “rest” can “ease TMJ pain” are so misleading.
“Relaxation and rest of the jaw can certainly help ease jaw pain in some situations,” says George. “But the headline makes it seem like you can get relief by simply taking a nap or a vacation, which is not very likely.”
The good news is, according to George, though relief from TMJD may be a bit more difficult to obtain than simply sleeping it off, there are solutions that can provide relief, such as neuromuscular dentistry, a special form of dentistry designed to realign the jaw and balance the bite.
“If you think you have TMJ disorder, speak to your dentist,” she says. “Don’t rely on a news article to diagnose or offer do-it-yourself treatment options. You could potentially make your TMJ disorder worse.”