At the widest moment of a big 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 headaches and earaches.
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, 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 disorder (TMD).
The most common problems that affect the temporomandibular joint are jaw muscle problems, disc disorders, and degenerative changes associated with the jaw joints. These problems are generally referred to as temporomandibular disorders (TMD).
But just because your jaw clicks or pops doesn't necessarily mean you have TMD and not everyone with TMD experiences clicking or popping in their jaw. TMD can have various causes including tight muscles, joint problems, arthritis, or clenching and grinding of the teeth.
The most common symptoms of TMD include:
If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor or dentist so they can assess you for TMD.
Most uncomplicated cases of TMD are treated using a combination of any of the following:
Treatment of TMD must be individualized according to the cause and other factors.
Even after successful management, episodes of pain and dysfunction may recur. Re-injury or factors that contributed to earlier episodes may be responsible. For the small group of people whose TMD progresses to a chronic pain disorder, treatment becomes more complex. These cases usually require more comprehensive management to address the emotional and behavioural disabilities that result as a consequence of chronic pain.
Mild analgesics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), anti-anxiety medications, and muscle relaxants are medications that can be used as part of initial treatment. NSAIDs are commonly prescribed for pain control in TMD therapy.
Anti-anxiety agents are useful especially during acute episodes of muscle pain. They are best used at night to avoid daytime drowsiness but their potential for dependence limits their usefulness.
Muscle relaxants are a class of medications that act in the central nervous system to depress muscular activity. They also have sedative effects that may contribute to their effect on symptoms. These medications are best taken at night before sleep because their sedative effects will interfere with daily activities.
Integrating behavioural therapy and relaxation techniques in chronic pain management to treat TMD is effective. Self-care and habit awareness may not be sufficient in some cases to change behaviours that are contributing to symptoms. A more structured program supervised by a clinician competent in behavioural therapy offers a greater chance of addressing issues that are contributing to muscle tension or pain.
Medical professionals generally agree that behavioural and educational therapies are effective in the management of chronic pain disorders. Relaxation techniques, hypnosis, cognitive-behavioural therapy, and biofeedback have all been used to produce symptom reduction in TMD.
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