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Iggy Azalea announces TMJ diagnosis: What does it mean?

Your oral health affects the health of your whole body. I created AsktheDentist.com to empower you with the must-know tips and advice for a healthy mouth and body for life.

What you should know about TMJ after Iggy Azalea's diagnosis

Iggy Azalea has revealed on Twitter that she has been diagnosed with TMJ. Depending on the cause of her TMJ, it could be an indication of a life-threatening condition. At the very least it could affect her career in a big way.

What is TMJ?

TMJ is a jaw joint condition that involves pain and soreness from damage within the jaw joint. Along with TMJ, the muscles of the face and neck can hurt. TMJ symptoms include headaches, jaw popping or clicking, neck pain, pain or tenderness in the face, eyes, neck, head, your jaw locking, and pain when you chew or open wide.

How do I know if I have TMJ?

TMJ is poorly understood by doctors and dentists alike. Many healthcare practitioners are not trained to treat it. It’s not an acute disease that goes away with antibiotics — it's a chronic condition you have for the rest of your life.

There's really no surgical cure for TMJ, so it's a matter of managing it and not creating further damage to the jaw joint, which would create more pain. TMJ requires a lifetime of management.

Most TMJ is caused by grinding and clenching, which is an indicator for sleep apnea — more on that in a bit.

How is TMJ treated?

If you have TMJ pain, it's not a clear-cut path to managing and reversing those symptoms.

In many cases, giving your jaw joint a break can help relieve symptoms — like dropping a chewing gum habit or cutting your food into smaller bites. A lot of us stress and abuse our jaw joint without even realizing it and these overworked muscles and joint just need a rest.

Checking your stress levels, using muscle relaxation exercises, medical marijuana, acupuncture and a TMJ support group are all great ways of treating your symptoms, but you'll have to determine what works best for you and experiment with different treatments.

It is now understood that grinding and clenching are an innate, instinctual response by the body to a small or collapsed airway. Grinding and clenching open your airway and save you at night, but there's a cost — clenching and grinding every night damage the jaw joint and your teeth, leading to TMJ symptoms.

This is why, if you have TMJ symptoms or grind your teeth, it's imperative you get a sleep study.

A mandibular advancement device, which is made by your dentist and pushes the jaw forward with a retainer-like device worn while you sleep, positions the jaw in such a way that your airway is kept open while you sleep. This eliminates the need to grind and prevents any further wear and tear on the jaw joint and your teeth.

In more severe cases of sleep apnea, a CPAP will be required because a mandibular advancement device alone may not be able to fix it.

Is TMJ life threatening?

It can be, yes. If TMJ symptoms are a result of grinding and clenching at night, this is very likely an indicator for sleep apnea. A lifetime of even mild sleep apnea, untreated, can cause dementia, high blood pressure, heart damage, diabetes, anxiety, a lack of focus, erectile dysfunction, and problems with long term memory consolidation.

If you have TMJ symptoms, you must:

Get a sleep study. Young people with TMJ symptoms need to be getting screened for sleep apnea. Even mild sleep apnea can build up over the years to some serious side effects.

See a dentist and have your bite checked. Make sure there are no occlusion issues. Occlusion is how your teeth mesh together and poor occlusion can cause TMJ.

Deal with it. Left unchecked, your joint will continue to be damaged. TMJ is difficult to cope with as the headaches and facial pain cause you lose your ability to focus.

In Iggy's case, the music industry requires her to be at the top of her game at all times. You can't be at your peak with chronic TMJ symptoms. TMJ, left untreated, will also affect her ability to speak and rap, as it becomes painful to open your mouth when your muscles are cramped. TMJ can also cause a change in facial expressions, and as a public figure, this could affect how people respond to her. The stress of dealing with chronic pain is incredibly distracting.

We take our jaw joint and facial muscles for granted every day when we chew our meal or smile — these muscles are constantly in motion, even at night. How much can one little joint take? Be kind to your jaw joint — it will affect everything from how you speak, look, function and even digest your food.

More on dental health

Soda, grinding and… brushing? The worst things you’re doing to your teeth
How hormones affect your dental health
Dental secrets that will make you finally take care of your teeth

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