Not everyone is familiar with the TMJ or temporomandibular joint because it can be quite a handful to say. But the TMJ is actually the medical term for what we call as our jaws.
Our jaws is probably the most used joint in our body aside from our knees and elbows. It’s because the jaw is used for eating, talking, and even showing our emotions (when we grind our teeth or move our jaws to show that we’re angry). Like any other part of the body, it can get overused or injured, too.
However, I didn’t know that this was the case until I had a toothache. At that time, I thought my teeth on the lower right side were painful because I was growing out a wisdom tooth. If you didn’t know, a wisdom tooth or wisdom teeth are the last permanent teeth to grow. They are found in the four corners of your teeth, but sometimes you wouldn’t find them at all. This doesn’t mean that they didn’t grow. In fact, one of the reasons why you should see your dentist when you have a toothache is because you might have wisdom teeth that weren’t able to come out of your gums because there’s no space left. Wisdom teeth grow when you’re in your late teens or early twenties.
Going back, at the time I had a toothache, I thought that it was just because a wisdom tooth was about to grow. But I was wrong when I got an X-ray for my teeth and there were no signs of teeth growing. I’m sure some of you have already experienced this. You went to your dentist, asked for an x-ray because of a toothache only to see that there isn’t any wisdom tooth on its way up. Instead, what your dentist would say is that you have a TMJ dysfunction.
A TMJ dysfunction or a temporomandibular joint dysfunction is the pain you feel when you have an injury or infection at your TMJ. It is often mistaken as a toothache because it’s near your teeth. A TMJ has two parts – the mandible or lower jaw and the temporal bone which is the socket. There is a disc between the two bones so that they glide smoothly against each other rather than causing friction and aching. A TMJ dysfunction occurs when this disc is displaced or when overuse of the jaws through clenching, grinding and chewing leads to wear and tear. It can also occur when you have poor cervical posture or when you experience too much stress.
Now, why did I suddenly give you a crash course on the TMJ dysfunction? This is because you have to understand why it is different from a toothache so that you know how to treat it unlike me. When I had a TMJ dysfunction, I went to my dentist and ended up still not knowing why my jaws hurt. That’s when someone recommended to me to visit a new physio in Footscray.
When I went to a physiotherapist, she explained what I needed to know about TMJ dysfunction and how it can be treated. One of the ways she suggested I try is by going through physiotherapy.
Physiotherapy, or what some people call physical therapy, is a branch of medicine that deals with movement to heal injuries. It offers a series of exercises that will move your affected area that will help in getting the strength it needed to recover. Physiotherapy can also be used to reduce muscle pains. It loosens up the tendons and muscles so that they can perform well. This is especially helpful for those who got injured through sports.
Anyway, the physiotherapist explained what physiotherapy can do in healing a TMJ dysfunction. Once I enroll for treatments, we would go through several jaw and myofascial exercises to loosen up the joint. I would also go through posture correction so that it no longer affects my jaws.
During the course of a few weeks, I’ve noticed that the pain decreased a lot. Of course, this was accompanied by pain killers for the days that the pain was unbearable. What I found great about this treatment is that it isn’t only on the healing side of diseases and injuries, but it is also a preventive measure for future cases. Take, for example, my case. I got TMJ dysfunction because I always overuse my jaws when clenching and grinding my teeth. When I took physiotherapy, not only was this habit of mine slowly corrected, but it was also called out by my physical therapist so that whenever I tend to do that, I would stop. To add to that, physiotherapy also gave me advice on what I can do to prevent this from happening again. One of the advice she gave me was to slowly chew my food (sounds simple, right?) and break them down into smaller pieces before I put them in my mouth. This way it would be gentler to my teeth and my jaw.