At the widest moment of a good wide-mouthed yawn, you might hear and feel a click in your jaw. For most people, a clicking jaw is an occasional annoyance or surprising pop now and then. For others, it's a symptom of a problem that may originate in the jaw but can radiate to other parts of the body, causing pain and discomfort.
Your jaw is one of the most complicated joints in your body. It has up-and-down, side-to-side, and forward sliding ranges of motion. Several muscles tether your jaw to your skull on both sides of your head and control the motions of chewing and talking (and yawning). And the small disc that cushions the bones, the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), acts as a shock absorber or damper. When something gets thrown out of whack in the works of this complex joint, you might experience a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD).
But just because your jaw clicks or pops doesn't necessarily mean you have TMJD, and not everyone with TMJD experiences clicking or popping in their jaw. TMJD is one of those nebulous conditions that are frequently misdiagnosed or totally undiagnosed.
The thing is, the way that pain radiates from the temporomandibular joint can change day to day. Episodes of TMJD are not all alike. A person can feel headaches one day, earaches another, and on yet another day a toothache. Sometimes a person may have trouble chewing, their jaw tight, fatigued, tender. And on some days, they may feel all of the above and more.
Say you go in to see your doctor, and you mention how you've been feeling this pain in your ear. Your doc's probably going to shine a light into your ear and have a look around. Finding nothing, the doctor may figure you're overstressed or perhaps getting over a cold that had your ears a bit stopped up. Maybe you visit a chiropractor for frequent headaches, and they may be able to work on your neck and back, but they may not know that it's your jaw that's the root of the problems.
So, how do you know if you have TMJD, and what can you do to take care of your symptoms?
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