Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders affect up to 12% of Americans and can cause pain, decreased range of jaw motion, and a clicking noise associated with movement. They can also lead to referred pain—pain that is felt at a location other than where it originates—all over the head and neck, including earaches and headaches.
TMJ disorders can be influenced by multiple factors, including traumatic injuries, hormonal influences, and overuse and/or improper use of the muscles of mastication (chewing). Clenching of the teeth (bruxism) is often a leading cause of TMJ muscle pain, although many people are not aware that they have this habit. Women are more likely than men to suffer from TMJ symptoms, and these disorders are most likely to occur in people 20 to 40 years old.
There are many natural ways to treat the unpleasant symptoms of TMJ.
1. Occlusal Splint. Most commonly known as night guards, these splints are custom-made dental orthotics that help protect the surfaces of the teeth and prevent clenching. These are one of the most frequently used treatments for TMJ disorders. They are most often worn at night.
2. Physical therapy. Stretching and range-of-motion exercises designed by a physical therapist can help to relieve pain and restore proper movement and function of the jaw.
3. Massage. Massage has been shown to be effective in relieving TMJ pain. Some massage therapists specialize in TMJ and even work on the muscles inside the mouth to release tension surrounding the jaw.
4. Acupuncture. Acupuncture has been shown to provide short-term relief from painful TMJ disorder symptoms.
5. Osteopathic manipulative technique. A study in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies showed that this technique, practiced by a doctor of osteopathy, reduced pain and improved range of motion after six months.
6. Self-management. If you suffer from TMJ pain or discomfort, it is important to be aware of your own habits. Avoid chewing gum or eating hard, chewy foods to put less stress on the TMJ muscles. Keep your teeth apart with the jaw muscles relaxed as much as possible throughout the day. Avoiding stress and learning what situations cause you to clench your teeth are both very important in preventing TMJ symptoms from getting worse or returning.
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