Hesperian Health Guides
Pain in the Joint
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A joint is the place where one bone joins another. The jawbone has two joints, for it joins the head in front of each ear.
The mouth opens and closes because:
- muscles pull the jawbone; and
- the jawbone slides against the head bone, inside the joints.
Pain in these joints may be because:
- The muscles are tight because the the person is tense or nervous.
- The jawbone is fractured in the area of the joint. (Also check the lower jaw on the other side since a fracture near the joint is often caused by a blow to the other side of the face.)
- The teeth do not fit together properly.
Before you treat, decide what is causing the pain. We will discuss the three causes mentioned above.
Talk with the person and help, if you can, to find a solution to her personal problems. This can do much to help her and her muscles relax. In addition, explain how to care for the sore joint:
- Eat only soft foods until it no longer hurts to chew.
- Hold a hot, wet cloth against the jaw, to help relax the muscle. Do this as often as possible, but be careful not to burn the skin.
- Take aspirin or acetominophen to reduce the pain.
If an X-ray shows a fracture, the person needs expert help. A dentist can wire the teeth in a way that will allow the bone to heal.
Teeth do not fit together properly.
Imagine a line that passes between the 2 middle upper teeth and the 2 middle lower teeth in the person’s closed mouth (see below). When the person opens the mouth, this line becomes longer, but it is still a straight line. If it is not, this condition can, after a long time, cause pain in the joint.
These teeth are normal. The line formed between the two middle teeth does not shift when the mouth opens.
These teeth do not fit properly. Because the line shifts, this means the jaw is also shifting. This shift can cause pain in the joint.
When you see teeth that do not fit properly:
- Warn the person not to open his mouth wide. Suggest, for example, that he take his food in small bites.
- Tell the person what can be done to help. Often a dentist can grind the teeth in a special way and this can end the pain.