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Quiz: How Much Do You Know About Jaw Pain?

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Chewing gum can help relieve jaw pain. 

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Chewing gum can help relieve jaw pain. 

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  • Correct Answer:

Chewing gum doesn't make jaw pain better. It actually can hurt your jaw joint because when you chew, you tense your jaw muscles. Avoid chewing on ice or hard foods and eat softer foods instead if you have jaw pain. If you grind your teeth at night, check with your health care provider about a device called a bite block to stop grinding.

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Jaw pain often comes from:

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Jaw pain often comes from:

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Problems with the jaw joints, muscles, or nerves can all cause pain. Long-lasting jaw pain may indicate a temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD. TMD pain can affect either or both sides of the face. The temporomandibular joint is made up of bones, muscles, ligaments, and discs. It's a complex system that lets us talk, chew, and even yawn. If any part of the system isn't working right, you can feel pain.

A sign of TMD may be:

A sign of TMD may be:

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Pain is the most common symptom of TMD, but you also may have painful clicking, popping, or grating when closing or opening your mouth. Sometimes the jaw may get stuck open or closed, or you may not be able to open your mouth very wide. Other symptoms may include headaches, jaw muscle stiffness, face swelling, and neck pain.

What is the main cause of TMD?

What is the main cause of TMD?

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For most TMD problems, there is no clear cause. It may be related to an injury to the jaw, or to rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis in the jaw joint. Stress and teeth grinding also may affect jaw pain; however, the exact role of stress is still unclear.

Who is more likely to get TMD?

Who is more likely to get TMD?

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More than 10 million Americans may have TMD, including about four times as many women as men. Researchers are trying to find out if there's a connection between TMD and female hormones. Most likely to get TMD? Young women between 20 and 40.

Most people need surgery to treat TMD.

Most people need surgery to treat TMD.

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Surgery is usually a last resort. First, your health care provider may suggest using moist heat or cold packs, stress reduction, and a mouth guard to keep you from grinding your teeth. If those don't help, he may prescribe muscle relaxants or pain medications. If there's still no relief, options may include injections or surgery. Surgery could mean arthroscopy (using an instrument with a tiny camera to look at the joint and remove tissue or realign the joint) or full, open-joint surgery.

You should never treat TMD yourself.

You should never treat TMD yourself.

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In many cases, you can ease jaw pain simply by resting the jaw joint. Try switching to a softer diet -- like yogurt, mashed potatoes, soup, and scrambled eggs -- and avoid hard foods and chewing gum. You can control grinding or clenching by sticking your tongue between your teeth. For pain, try over-the-counter pain relievers, but call your health care provider if your symptoms don't get better.

What may make TMJ pain worse?

What may make TMJ pain worse?

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Here's another reason to stand up straight. Poor posture can make you strain your jaw and neck muscles, particularly if you slouch or hunch over.  Staring at a computer screen may cause you to thrust your chin closer to the screen. That may strain your jaw joint and your jaw and neck muscles. One study found that when people with TMD did posture exercises, their symptoms got better.

Which conditions may mimic TMD?

Which conditions may mimic TMD?

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Many other conditions -- including sinus problems, toothaches, and gum disease -- have some of the same symptoms as TMD. That's why your health care provider will thoroughly examine your jaw joints. That includes feeling for pain or tenderness and listening for clicking or popping sounds when you open and close your mouth. She also may take an X-ray and order more imaging tests.

Who should you see for  jaw pain and TMD?

Who should you see for  jaw pain and TMD?

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There's no specialist for TMD, so start by asking your primary care doctor or your dentist about jaw pain. A doctor can rule out conditions that may have the same symptoms, including sinus or ear infections or headaches. Your dentist can rule out toothaches or gum disease. You may want to ask your doctor for a referral to someone trained in treating pain and who understands muscle and bone disorders. Or try pain clinics at hospitals and universities.

Jaw pain may be a warning sign for a heart attack.

Jaw pain may be a warning sign for a heart attack.

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Chest pain or discomfort is the most common warning sign of a heart attack. However, women may be more likely than men to have other symptoms, including pain in other parts of the body such as the jaw or neck.  Nausea or vomiting, sweating, and shortness of breath may happen along with the pain. If you feel these symptoms, call 911 immediately. Minutes matter and can save lives.

Grinding and clenching your teeth may cause:

Grinding and clenching your teeth may cause:

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You may not even realize you're grinding your teeth and clenching your jaw. This condition, called bruxism, often happens at night when you sleep. It can cause jaw pain and the other symptoms of TMD. It also can affect your teeth, causing worn-down tooth enamel, chipped teeth, and more sensitive teeth. If you grind and clench your teeth a lot, you may have headaches and earaches.

Wearing a mouthpiece round-the-clock may help with pain from TMD.

Wearing a mouthpiece round-the-clock may help with pain from TMD.

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Your dentist may make a plastic mouthpiece that fits over your upper or lower teeth. Called splints or mouth guards, they keep your upper and lower teeth separated from each other. That makes it hard to grind your teeth or clench your jaw. Splints are worn 24 hours a day, while night guards are worn only at night. They may seem awkward, but they work: As many as 70% to 90% of the people who wear them get some pain relief.

Severe jaw pain may be caused by medication for which medical problem?

Severe jaw pain may be caused by medication for which medical problem?

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It's rare, but one potential side effect from some osteoporosis drugs is a condition called osteonecrosis of the jaw,  where the jawbone actually dies. It can cause severe jaw pain in some cases. These drugs include Actonel, Boniva, Fosamax, and Reclast. If you take any of these types of drugs, be sure to tell your dentist.

Once you have TMD, you will always be in some pain.

Once you have TMD, you will always be in some pain.

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TMD can last a long time, and symptoms can come and go. They may get worse when you are under stress. But that doesn’t mean you will always ache. Learning what triggers your jaw pain can help you keep your pain and discomfort under control.

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