In younger patients, TMJ pain is typically associated with issues affecting the jaw muscle. While the exact causes of TMJ syndrome in adults and elderly patients have not yet been identified, the disorder may be connected to certain factors that become more prevalent as old age approaches:
- Muscle spasms in the head, neck or jaw, often caused by other medical conditions, accidents and injuries.
- Changes in tooth structure (tooth replacement or wearing down of teeth) or dental procedures (replacement of old fillings, fitting of dentures, etc.).
- Trauma to the temporomandibular joint or TMJ cartilage disc, and injuries to the jaw, head or neck.
- Onset of arthritis, especially osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout, which affect various joints in the body.
Signs of TMD in the Older Population
Symptoms of TMJ disease in older patients include:
- Jaw popping, locked jaw and other joint-related complaints while chewing, speaking, etc.
- Frequent or debilitating headaches, neck aches, stiff shoulders, pain in the jaw area and nearby locations like ears, temple, cheek, etc.
- Bruxism or teeth grinding may be a symptom/cause of TMJ, indicating a gearing problem that leads to muscle spasms.
- “Tightness” or reduced movement in the jaw, sometimes accompanied by other symptoms like jaw locking.
- “Clicks” and other noises in the jaw, buzzing in the ear, vertigo (dizziness), greater sensitivity to sounds, etc.
How to Prevent TMJ Disorder in Older Adults
Here are some ways to relieve stress on the jaw and prevent TMD:
- Keep your face relaxed (lips together and teeth apart).
- Massage your jaw, cheeks and temples regularly.
- Avoid grinding or clenching your teeth, eating chewy or hard foods, and chewing gum.
- Chew with both sides of your mouth, and take smaller bites.
- Practice good posture and invest in ergonomic furniture.
- Stretch and move around regularly to relax your joints.
- Don’t rest your chin on your hand.
- Support your lower jaw with your hand while yawning.
- Don’t bite hard objects like pens, pencils, fingernails, cuticles, etc.
- Avoid cradling the phone between your neck and shoulder.
TMJ Pain Treatment for Older Patients
Common TMJ disorder treatment methods include:
- Resting the Joint – Relaxation techniques can help rest the jaw joint and ease TMJ pain, often coupled with stress-reduction methods to reduce clenching.
- Orthodontics – Certain orthodontic techniques can help reduce grinding of teeth and muscle spasms. Night guards and dental splints can also help.
- Jaw Exercises – Ultrasound/heat treatments, massage and other physiotherapy techniques can exercise the joint to improve movement and reduce TMD symptoms.
- Surgery/Injections – Severe cases may need surgery for repairing the joint. Steroid or Botox injections can help reduce inflammation and other symptoms.
- Pain Medication – Muscle relaxants, antidepressants and painkillers may be prescribed for TMJ pain. These can become addictive and have harmful side-effects, so medication is not preferred for elderly patients.
Your doctor will attempt to correct any underlying medical conditions before resorting to surgery or medication for TMD. To ensure it doesn’t worsen, visit a health professional for TMJ treatment at the earliest!
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