Temporomandibular Tension Syndrome

Temporomandibular tension syndrome can cause chronic acute pain, limited opening of the mouth, and discomfort in nearby organs. How can you alleviate it? In this article we'll tell you all about it.
Temporomandibular Tension Syndrome

Last update: 11 August, 2020

Temporomandibular tension syndrome is also often called temporomandibular joint dysfunction. It corresponds to a set of symptoms affecting the temporomandibular joint.

In every case, one of the main symptoms is pain in the area and a change in the functioning of the joint. Furthermore, it can have a significant impact on your quality of life. What is it? How can you get better? Keep reading to find out.

What is the temporomandibular joint?

It’s the joint that connects the jaw to the skull in the temporal region. It’s located on both sides of the head, just in front of the ears. It helps the mouth to open and close. This, in turn, is made possible by so-called chewing muscles.

When you talk, eat, yawn, or laugh, you’re putting it to use, so it’s easy to see that you use it constantly. For this reason, it’s not strange to say that it’s very common to see joint dysfunctions in adults. This can also occur in children, especially from 10 years of age onwards.

Man in office holding jaw.
The temporomandibular joint allows you to open and close your mouth.

What is temporomandibular tension syndrome?

As we mentioned before, it’s a group of conditions and it’s usually classified, according to the cause of the problem, as muscular or articular. In reality, many times both the joint and the chewing muscles are affected.

It may be unilateral or bilateral. It also occurs more frequently in women. In addition, the most common age to experience it is between 20 and 44 (approximately), although it can occur at any age.

The main symptoms are:

  • Acute or chronic pain related to movement of the jaw, usually in the area around the ear
  • Clicking of the joint when opening and closing the mouth
  • Limited range of motion of the mouth, and it can even lock the jaw
  • Headache and neck pain
  • Earache
  • Ringing
  • Decreased hearing acuity

What are the possible causes?

The possible causes are widely varied. In fact, on many occasions, more than one cause may be responsible. Below, we have a list of some of the common ones:

  • Tooth malocclusion
  • The habit of clenching the jaw
  • The habit of biting a pencil
  • Chewing gum
  • Bruxism
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Joint infection
  • Joint dislocation
  • Neoplasms
  • Degenerative joint diseases
  • Trauma to the joint region
  • Displacement of the articular disc

Often, to make the diagnosis, it’s enough for the specialist to check the medical history of the pain and do a physical examination of the area, including the neck region.

Sometimes they’ll need to take some images, such as an x-ray, computed tomography, or magnetic resonance imaging. If the doctor considers it necessary, they’ll do blood tests in order to make a differential diagnosis.

A patient with bruxism at the orthodontist.
Bruxism, degenerative joint diseases, and trauma are some of the main causes of temporomandibular tension syndrome.

How to improve temporomandibular tension syndrome

On many occasions, various causes of this syndrome combine, and the approach to solutions may require help from an interdisciplinary team. Sometimes it’s a temporary situation, which can even improve without any specific treatment.

However, on other occasions, you’ll need treatment measures that may alleviate pain and improve poor joint function. However, there are steps that you can take patients to reduce or control this syndrome. We’ll call them conservative measures, and they include the following:

  • Avoid biting any inedible item (pencils, pens, nails, etc.)
  • Keep your jaw a little open and relaxed to avoid having it constantly clenched
  • Be very careful or even avoid certain musical instruments that can tighten your mouth, jaw, or neck area
  • Apply muscle relaxation techniques
  • Place hot or cold compresses on the painful area
  • Improve sleep hygiene
  • Do muscle massages
  • Eat soft food
  • Avoid wide movements of the jaw

These measures will be extremely useful, always under the supervision of the specialist. Occasionally, the doctor will prescribe pain relievers and physiotherapy.

There are removable occlusal splints that, in some cases, can be helpful. On the other hand, in severe cases, conservative measures aren’t enough and surgery might be necessary.

The prognosis may vary depending on the cause

Fortunately, in most cases, patients respond well to conservative measures. Therefore, there’s a good prognosis. However, it’s important to note that, if the temporomandibular tension syndrome is caused by a neoplasm, degenerative joint disease, etc., the prognosis and evolution may vary.

Considering the above, the symptoms can improve or worsen depending on the evolution of the disease that causes it. For this reason, it’s essential to make a good medical diagnosis and start proper treatment, depending on the case.

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