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Spring Finals Bring on TMJ Pain

It’s the end of another semester and finals are just around the corner. Your child has been working hard to do well in school and with finals coming, most of their waking hours are spent studying. Soon there is pain creeping up in their jaw or their temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ). They call you to say “Mom, I have TMJ”. Technically, everyone has TMJ, in fact you have two of them, one on the right and one on the left side. TMJ is a term that describes the joint itself. Now, if there is a disorder in the TMJ, it is then called TMD, which stands for Temporo-mandibular dysfunction. It is not unusual for my office to see young men and women for TMD this time of year. There are many causes for TMD and also many different ways to treat it.

Most commonly, TMD is caused by overuse of the chewing muscles. This is easily done when the teeth are clenched or when you grind your teeth. Clenching and grinding causes hyperactivity of the muscles which can result in pain. Simply releasing the pressure and telling yourself to keep “lips together, teeth apart” will allow the muscles to relax. Okay, maybe it is not as simple as I’m stating it because at times you may not even realize that you are clenching. Therefore a conscious effort has to be made to relax the muscles. Pay attention to your body to change this behavior.

In addition to keeping your teeth apart and your lips together, taking advil® (ibuprofen) can also help with the muscle pain. You may also need to change your diet temporarily. Food items such as chewing gum or other sticky and hard to chew items should be avoided as they can cause your already overworked muscles to work all that much harder.

If making the above changes does not help, please seek a dental professional for advice. You might need a nightguard or physical therapy to get the relief that you are seeking. You may also have some other disorder of the TMJ that needs to be treated in a different manner. Your dentist will provide you with a thorough exam and may order additional images of the TMJs to come up with a diagnosis. The good news is that most of the time, TMD is temporary and little to no treatment is needed to resolve it. For some people that is not the case but know that help is available.

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