What is TMJ?
There’s nothing worse than waking up in pain. Sleep should leave you rejuvenated, refreshed and rested but when living with a condition such as TMJ or TMD (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder), this can be hard to achieve. To make matters worse, TMJ is a very individualized condition and the causes and symptoms are specific to each individual. One of the best ways to begin tackling your TMJ issues is to evaluate how you sleep and how that may be affecting your condition.
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint on either side of your face. The joint is a hinge that connects your jaw to the temporal bones of your skull, which are in front of each ear. These joints and jaw muscles allow you to move your jaw up and down, side to side, forward and backwards, so you can talk, chew, yawn or swallow.
Problems or disorders of this area of your jaw (TMJ disorders) are a result of issues with the chewing muscles and joints that connect your lower jaw to your skull.
Common TMJ symptoms
According to WebMD TMJ can cause severe pain and discomfort on one or both sides of your face, which may be temporary or last several years. It’s more common in women and most often occurs within the 20 to 40 age group. The most common symptoms of TMJ include:
- Pain or tenderness in your face, jaw joint area, neck and shoulders, and in or around the ear when you chew, speak, or open your mouth wide
- Lock jaw
- Clicking, popping, or grating sounds in the jaw joint when you open or close your mouth or when chewing. This may or may not be painful.
- A tired feeling in your face
- Trouble chewing or a sudden uncomfortable bite – as if the upper and lower teeth don’t fit together properly
- Swelling on the side of your face
- Read more: WebMD
Causes of TMJ
We don’t know what causes TMJ but many dentists believe symptoms arise from problems with the jaw muscles or with the joint itself. These problems can result from any of the following:
- Trauma or injury – Injury to your jaw, joint or the muscles within the areas of your head and neck. The trauma could be a result of a heavy blow or whiplash from a car accident.
- Grinding/clenching of teeth – If you grind or clench your teeth you’re (nightly) exerting extra pressure on the joint that can lead to stiffness and pain.
- Stress – Tension from stress can cause you to tighten facial and jaw muscles or clench the teeth.
- Poor posture – Head and neck posture can also be an important factor in TMJ symptoms. For example, holding the head forward while looking at a computer all day strains the muscles of the face and neck.
Other factors that might make TMJ symptoms worse are stress, poor diet, lack of sleep, arthritis, fractures, dislocations and structural problems present since birth.
Sleep factors & TMJ
For those who suffer from TMJ, some of the worst strain can occur during sleep. While sleep is essential in helping to manage symptoms, it can be difficult for sufferers to achieve a healthy night’s sleep. Certain sleeping positions can exacerbate problems and pain related to TMJ.
Your sleeping position influences a number of TMJ issues, including strain on the muscles of the face, jaw and shoulders. Your sleeping position also affects how your head and neck are supported and can determine the likelihood of clenching or grinding your teeth. If you find yourself waking up with a headache, ear or jaw pain, there’s a big chance your sleeping position may be the culprit.
Best position to help TMJ symptoms? Sleep on your back. There are a number of back sleeping benefits:
- Eliminates pressure on your jaw.
- Supports your head, neck and shoulders.
- Provides proper alignment of the body, keeping your head, neck and spine in the desired neutral position.
- Reduces the chance you’ll spend your night grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw.
The worst position for TMJ? Sleep on your stomach. But sleeping on your side with an arm under your head can be just as damaging. Both of these sleeping choices cause your posture to be out of alignment, making TMJ symptoms worse.
Getting in the habit
Sleeping on your back, if it isn’t already your first choice, can be a hard habit to get yourself into. These tips can help you get more comfortable with sleeping on your back and allow you to wake up well rested and pain free.
- A small pillow positioned under the arch of your spine can make back sleeping more comfortable.
- The right mattress can go a long way. A mattress that conforms to your body will make it much more comfortable and cozy sleeping on your back.
- Think about your arm position while catching some shut eye on your back. While having your arms at your sides is best, if you position your arms above your head you can create strain on your shoulders.
Sleeping is just one of the factors in managing and improving TMJ symptoms. If you would like to know more about symptom relief.