The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a sliding hinge on either side of the jaw that allows us to open and close our mouths to chew, speak, laugh, and more. TMJ disorders that result in pain, stiffness, clicking and locking of the jaw, and issues like headaches can have a major impact on our lives, affecting our ability to eat and even speak comfortably.

What are TMJ disorders? Where do they come from and how can they impair speech? More importantly, what can be done to correct these disorders in order to regain normal function? Here’s what you need to know if you experience TMJ issues that make it hard to speak.

WHAT IS TMJ AND WHAT CAUSES IT?

TMJ disorders, often collectively referred to as TMJ, are conditions that impair the function of the jaw, either because of stiffness, pain, or other symptoms like locking. TMJ disorders could be attributed to a wide variety of causes.

Trauma to the joint is an obvious cause for stiffness and pain, so if you’ve suffered a recent accident or injury, there’s a good chance resulting TMJ is temporary and will fade as you heal. It could also be related to illnesses like colds, flus, or sinus or ear infections that create pressure on the temporomandibular joint.

Bruxism is another potential cause of TMJ and related issues like headaches and neck aches. When you unconsciously clench and/or grind teeth, the pressure and muscle tension can definitely cause jaw pain and stiffness. Arthritis could also be to blame. Even excessive chewing (like frequent gum chewing) could contribute to symptoms of TMJ disorder.

HOW DOES TMJ IMPAIR SPEECH?

Although there are many potential underlying causes for TMJ disorders, the real cause of symptoms is damage to the joint itself, or to the muscles and nerves surrounding it. This results in pain and stiffness that can limit mobility.

If it hurts to move your jaw, chances are you’re going to avoid moving it, or you’ll try to adjust movement to reduce pain symptoms. This, in turn, can lead to problems speaking, or even cause you to limit speech as a result.

TREATMENT OPTIONS

Treating the causes of TMJ disorders is a good way to eliminate symptoms in the long-term. This isn’t always possible if you’re dealing with a degenerative condition like arthritis, for example, but if you have bruxism, a night guard could provide relief, and long-term stress reduction could be a cure.

You can use home care like hot or cold compresses, massage, and OTC painkillers like ibuprofen for temporary relief. However, you should contact your dentist and your primary doctor for diagnosis and treatment options.

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