Your jaw joints – the temporomandibular joints – work together when you chew, speak, and swallow. This complex system is built on a series of tiny hinges in front of your ears, but when they’re out of alignment, they can become a major pain. Jaw pain and facial pain are common symptoms of TMJ – or temporomandibular joint disorder. Your joint disorder can be mild or life-altering, depending on its severity.
What Causes TMJ?
Most people don’t contemplate the function their jaw joints, but they rely on balance. Each of your joints has a cushioning disk and system of muscles and ligaments that allow your lower jaw to move freely. When these joints are correctly aligned, your teeth come together in their correct position, and the muscles can relax. When your alignment is imprecise, the results can be quite painful. TMJ is believed to have several possible causes. Some of those causes include:
- Injury to the jaw
- Grinding the teeth
- Clenching the jaw (stress)
- A misaligned bite
- Rheumatoid or osteoarthritis
Common Symptoms of TMJ
The symptoms of TMJ will vary from person to person. You may only experience one or two symptoms, or you could have them all. The pain can be mild or severe or fluctuate from day to day. You, or your dentist, may suspect TMJ if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Popping or clicking of the jaw joint
- Muscle spasms in your jaw
- Jaw or facial pain that can radiate to your neck
- Shoulder pain
- Limited motion or joint locking
- A change in the position of your jaw
- Recurring headaches or migraines
- Frequent sinus or ear infections
- Tooth sensitivity (without dental problems)
- Vertigo or dizziness
Diagnosing Temporomandibular Joint Disorder
You can have TMJ even if your teeth are straight. Even if your bite is fine, it can shift out of alignment as you get older. As part of your dental exam, your muscles will be checked for tenderness and your joints for clicking or popping. If you have been experiencing any of the symptoms of TMJ, it is essential to communicate this information to your dentist. In some cases, your dentist could want a full face x-ray, MRI, or computed tomography (CT) to confirm suspicions or rule out other potential causes for your discomfort, such as cavities or sinus issues.
Standard TMJ Treatment Options
After an evaluation, your dentist will know best how to treat your disorder. There are several treatment options available. Some of the possible courses of treatment include:
- Wearing a Splint or Mouthguard: TMJ treatment splints are similar to the clear aligners worn to straighten teeth. They take the pressure off your joints so that the muscles can relax and heal. If Your dentist determines that you should wear a mouthguard at night, your mouthguard will prevent the clenching or grinding that could be causing your symptoms.
- Correcting Your Bite: If your joint disorder is caused by a misaligned bite, you may benefit from braces. Even if your teeth are straight, repositioning your bite may alleviate the disorder and spare you a lot of discomfort.
- Trigger Point Injections: Your dentist will inject an anesthetic into tender areas to relieve pain, allowing you to stretch and exercise your jaw muscles. Once you can begin working the muscles, you may be given a series of jaw exercises to help strengthen the joint, minimizing your pain.
For mild TMJ symptoms, or when symptoms flare, there are several behavioral and lifestyle changes that may help limit or eliminate your TMJ symptoms. Some of the practices you may want to adopt include:
- Using over-the-counter pain medications to reduce inflammation and discomfort
- Using hot or cold compresses to reduce pain
- Eating soft foods
- Chewing food evenly using both sides of your mouth
- Relaxing your jaw and face by keeping your teeth apart with your lips together
- Refraining from opening your mouth too wide
- Avoiding gum
- Cutting foods that require biting (like apples)
Even if your TMJ is not causing a significant amount of discomfort, you should inform your dentist of any problems. Untreated TMJ can cause arthritis, excessive wear on your teeth or even cause your teeth to crack. If the condition results in a locked jaw, surgery will be necessary to repair any damage. Early detection and treatment can reduce your risk of complications.
For the region’s leading dental providers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, contact Simply Beautiful Smiles. We offer state-of-the-art technology as well as high-quality, trusted family dental care.