Those who have persistent chronic jaw pain, TMJ -- Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, live with a constant and acute jaw pain that is often nearly incapacitating. This jaw muscle pain and mandibular joint pain is so intense that most sufferers continually experience severe depression and anxiety. This chronic pain creates tremendous stress and even social dysfunction because the person suffering from it feels that it is not adequately understood by others. However, a simple lack of knowledge by the broader public and inadequate professional diagnostics account for this. For this reason, it is imperative to gain a better understanding of the symptoms, causes, and treatment methods for TMJ or TMJD.
TMJ symptoms are widely varied in individuals and can include the following:
• Pain in the face, especially lower jaw pain ranging from mild to debilitating
• Clicking or popping sounds in the jaw joint
• Frequent headaches
• Earaches, ringing or a feeling of fullness in the ears
• Shoulder and neck pain
• Locking of the jaw joint, or limited mobility when opening or closing the mouth
• Sensitivity to light
Even more baffling, the actual causes of TMJ are not clearly defined either. In some cases, the joint or lower jaw problems can be traced back to a blow on the face or head. Back posture can be a contributing factor. Other cases can be caused by the clenching or grinding of teeth caused by stress or a “bad” bite – also known as “Bruxism.” Bruxism can cause not only dental problems, but tightness and pain in the jaw muscles. So, adding to the confusion, TMJ also seems to arise from dental problems many times.
Given the variety of symptoms and causes, it is no wonder that it is hard to find a TMJ pain treatment that will bring relief to any one particular sufferer. This trial and error period during which various treatments are tried only increases the stress on a TMJ patient, in turn increasing the pain and tension in the face and jaw. It becomes a cycle of ever-increasing discomfort and frustration.
Failed treatments and continuous pain cause feelings of frustration and hopelessness among most TMJ sufferers. This is felt to such an extent that they come to feel alone, isolated and vulnerable. Hopelessness and despair sets in as a result of this constant unrelenting pain because it cannot be mitigated by any means known to them. Such pain actually scares them.
For the estimated 10,000,000 sufferers of TMJ in the U.S., finding an effective treatment for their TMJ pain and symptoms can be frustrating, time-consuming, and expensive. Very few clinical studies have been conducted to test the various treatments for TMJ pain. And this is compounded by the confusing number of medical practitioners that claim to be TMJ specialists. And many medical professionals have no experience in dealing with such pain, much less, the causes of such a pain.
The disagreement about even putting a name on the problem is indicative of the general confusion over causes and treatments of TMJ. It follows that there is a serious lack of a standard treatment for all patients. If you were to interview a large number of TMJ suffers, the confusion becomes understandable.
Pain control medication is useful for initial symptom management. And obviously, this is of primary concern to TMJ patients. Pain medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) useful for other painful muscle conditions are usually recommended. Some clinicians also have found muscle relaxant medications and low-dose anti-depressants useful in initial management of TMJ. However, these are powerful drugs, so the risk of side effects of NSAIDs and anti-depressants, in long-term use, must be weighed against the potential benefits. Again, the most conservative approach with the fewest side effects is generally the best option.
TMJ or TMJD is often difficult to diagnose due to the various symptoms, lack of understanding what causes this painful condition, and the treatment methods that are most effective. However, by helping others understand the condition, finding a physician that is sympathetic and willing to try multiple treatment methods, and patience while you find a conservative treatment method that relieves the pain associated with your TMJ or TMJD will make this condition more tolerable so that you can enjoy life to the fullest.
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