The mild TMJ disorder, which is also known as myofascial pain syndrome (MPS), is a condition that affects the muscles and tissues around the temporomandibular joint.
This is where your lower jaw or “mandible” and your skull meet and hinge to allow you to talk, swallow, eat, etc. Your temporomandibular joint has to be in good working order to live a normal, healthy life. If not, then it can lead to a mild TMJ disorder.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of MPS?
Mild TMJ disorder symptoms are pretty noticeable but not nearly as severe as conditions that cause pain for more people.
Some signs you might have a mild TMJ disorder include:
- A click or pop when opening your mouth or chewing
- You hear a grating sound in your jaw joint when opening and closing your mouth too much, known as crepitus
- Any change to the way you smile (crooked, unable to open wide)
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) with no apparent cause like acid reflux medication or food lodged in the throat
What Causes MPS?
The exact cause of myofascial pain syndrome isn’t known. Still, several factors may contribute to its development, including previous injury or illness, stress, poor dental health, arthritis, teeth grinding, and normal wear and tear on joints as you age.
Someone susceptible to this condition may have one or more risk factors that make them more likely to develop MPS.
How Is MPS Treated?
If you are diagnosed with MPS, your doctor will discuss the best treatment options with you. It is essential to keep in mind that there is no cure for these conditions, but there are ways to manage the symptoms and make a living with it easier on yourself.
Your doctor might prescribe medicines like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or narcotic analgesics for a mild TMJ disorder if it is causing significant discomfort or making it hard for you to eat and sleep.
A physical therapist can teach you exercises and stretches that can help alleviate some stress on your jaw joint and muscles. This may be especially helpful early in your diagnosis before the pain becomes too severe.
An occlusal splint with a soft inner surface may be prescribed if you grind or clench your teeth at night (nocturnal bruxism). It helps protect the muscles, bones, and joints of the mouth from damage by distributing the pressure evenly over a larger surface area. It is effective in both relieving symptoms and stopping teeth grinding entirely in some cases.
Surgery is only recommended as an extreme last resort for myofascial pain syndrome because it can delay or prevent natural healing. If you have severe TMJ disorder, your doctor might recommend surgery to cut soft tissue around the joint, remove excess bone growth or realign your jaw to restore movement and relieve pain.
Is There a Way to Prevent MPS?
There are things you can do to lower your chances of getting myofascial pain syndrome, including:
- Quit smoking if you currently smoke or have recently quit. Smoking can make it harder for your muscles and jaw to heal.
- Exercise regularly to stay fit, which will also help with stress management.
- Eat a healthy diet that is low in fat, sugar, and refined carbohydrates to maintain optimal health. Studies have shown that changing.
What Should I Do If Symptoms Worsen or Don’t Improve?
If you don’t see a noticeable improvement with treatment for a mild TMJ disorder within six weeks or experience new symptoms that are more painful or frequent, contact your doctor.
If your symptoms worsen suddenly or don’t go away after trying self-care treatments like rest and over-the-counter medication for a mild TMJ disorder, call 911 or seek immediate care.
Signs that might indicate a sudden worsening of myofascial pain syndrome are:
- Severe pain in the jaw joint area
- Unable to move jaw at all
- Inflammation of the joint area
- Difficulty speaking due to extreme jaw stiffness
- Drooling and difficulty swallowing due to severe stiffness
- Black and blue marks on the face or neck from clenching or grinding teeth during sleep.
- Dizziness, vomiting, confusion, or other new neurological symptoms (trouble walking or coordination) may indicate a more severe condition such as stroke.
Always contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of the above conditions. They may need to be treated at a hospital for the immediate danger they present, but they could also help rule out some emergencies that require immediate attention. It is better to be safe than sorry!