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Temporomandibular Disorder, or Why Does My Jaw Hurt So Much?

You're probably used to hearing it referred to as TMJ because of the joint it affects, namely the temporomandibular joint. But in dental and medical circles, the proper reference is TMD, for temporomandibular disorder.

The temporomandibular joint is a hinge on both sides of your face that connects your jaw to the temporal bones of your skull, right in front of your ears. If you yawn, or open and close your mouth several times while your fingers rest there, you can feel the joint doing its thing.

These joints are utilized during most of our waking hours. Every time we have a conversation, a meal, or laugh at a joke they play a part.

Unfortunately, with TMD, either the jaw muscles or parts of the joint itself cease operating properly, affecting your ability to open your mouth. This can be caused by:

  • serious injury, like a blow to the head or whiplash
  • grinding or clenching your teeth
  • arthritis
  • movement of the disc between the ball and socket of the joint
  • stress (leading to unconscious clenching)

TMD can hit one or both sides of your face, and can cause extreme discomfort. It affects more women than men, usually between the ages of 20 and 40. Pain in this area can also be caused by tooth decay or sinus issues, so ask your dentist to determine if it is TMD or something else that's causing it.

Tackling It Yourself

With stress-induced TMD, home remedies can sometimes be effective. You can take an anti-inflammatory over-the-counter medicine, use a combination of heat and ice, consciously force your jaw to relax, or incorporate physical therapy exercises

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