Preventing and Treating TMJ in Older Adults

What is TMJ?

TMJ, sometimes called TMD or temporomandibular joint disorders, is a painful condition that occurs when the joints on the side of your jaw aren’t working properly.

In younger patients, TMJ pain is typically associated with issues affecting the jaw muscle.

While the exact causes of TMJ in adults hasn’t been identified yet, the disorder may be connected to certain factors that become more prevalent as we age. These include:

  • Muscle spasms in the head, neck, or jaw, often caused by other medical conditions, accidents or 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 joint or cartilage, and injuries to the jaw, head or neck.
  • Onset of arthritis, especially osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout, all of which affect various joints in the body.

What are the warning signs of TMJ?

Symptoms of TMJ disease in older patients include:

  • Jaw popping, jaw locking, reduced movement and other jaw- or joint-related discomfort while chewing and speaking
  • Frequent, debilitating headaches, neck aches, stiff shoulders, pain in the jaw area and nearby locations like ears, temple, and cheek
  • Increased dizziness (vertigo)
  • Sensitivity to sound
  • Teeth grinding or jaw clenching, possibly leading to muscle spasms
  • “Clicks” and other noises in the jaw such as buzzing in the ear.

How Can I Prevent TMJ?

Here are some ways to relieve stress on the jaw and prevent TMJ/TMD:

  • Keep your face relaxed with your lips together and teeth apart.
  • Massage your jaw, cheeks, and temples regularly.
  • Avoid grinding or clenching your teeth, and minimize chewy or hard foods in your diet and how often you chew gum.
  • Chew with both sides of your mouth, and take smaller bites.
  • Practice good posture and consider investing 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.

How is TMJ Treated?

  • Resting the JointRelaxation techniques* can help rest the jaw and ease TMJ pain. This is often paired with other stress-reduction techniques.
  • Orthodontics – Certain orthodontic devices can help reduce grinding of teeth and muscle spasms. Night guards and dental splints can also help.
  • Jaw Exercises – Ultrasound and heat treatments as well as massage and other physiotherapy techniques* can exercise the joint, improving movement and reducing TMJ symptoms.
  • Surgery or Injections – Severe cases of TMJ may require surgery to repair the joint. Steroids or Botox injections may also be used to reduce inflammation and other symptoms.
  • Pain Medication – Medication therapy including muscle relaxers, antidepressants, or painkillers may help to reduce TMJ-related pain.

Your doctor will attempt to correct any underlying medical conditions before resorting to surgery or medication for TMJ. If you think you have TMJ, or are currently experiencing worsening symptoms, schedule an appointment with a health professional to discuss treatment options.

*Oral Health America and its website Tooth Wisdom® do not endorse any dentists or services linked from its articles. See our Terms & Conditions for additional details. 

About the Author

Shen Chao
Joshua Hong, DDS

The information on this article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Tooth Wisdom® and Oral Health America do not recommend or endorse any specific dentists, products, procedures, opinions, or other information mentioned. See full Terms & Conditions.

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