Having pain in your jaw and face can be miserable, and it’s even worse when you’re not sure what’s causing the pain. For many people, that facial pain is related to the joint that acts as a hinge between the upper jaw and lower jaw. This joint is called the temporomandibular joint. When this joint isn’t functioning as it should, it could be pointing to symptoms of a temporomandibular joint disorder, also known as TMJ.
This joint is a complex series of ligaments, muscles, bones, and discs that control the jaw’s movement to the side, forward, and backward. When something goes wrong, such as an injury or an accident, you can have trouble moving the jaw without pain.
In order to understand what TMJ is and what treatment you may benefit from for it, it’s helpful to know what symptoms you should be looking out for. At Crescent Heights Dental, we help hundreds of patients each year deal with their TMJ. Here’s everything to know if you think you might have this chronic jaw problem.
TMJ: What Causes It
Even though the medical world doesn’t fully understand what exactly causes TMJ, we do know that there are multiple factors that can affect it. Doctors are still not certain whether these things are directly causing TMJ or whether they are direct results of the disorder. Nevertheless, they do know of a few possible causes. These include:
● Jaw misalignment
● Trauma to mouth or jaw
● Bruxism, also known as tooth grinding
● Anxiety and stress
● Musculoskeletal inflammatory disorders
● Excessive gum chewing
It’s much easier to identify your pain than to identify what is causing your pain, even your doctor may not be able to tell you. If you think you may have TMJ, it may be caused by any of the following:
● Arthritic damage in the cartilage of the joint
● Erosion of the discs in the jaw
● Chronic teeth grinding or jaw clenching
● Anxiety and stress causing a tightened jaw muscle
● Connective tissue diseases
Even if you are unable to identify the source of your TMJ pain, as long as you are able to identify it correctly as TMJ, you will still be able to seek treatment methods.
TMJ: Symptoms to Look For
While TMJ does cause jaw pain, not all jaw pain is caused by TMJ.
The joint that has problems when you have TMJ is the temporomandibular joint, located right in front of the ear on either side of the face. In addition to severe pain surrounding this joint, some other symptoms may include:
● Toothache-like pain
● Clicking or popping of the jaw, also known as crepitus
● Tenderness in the jaw
● Ear pain
● A popping of the ears
● Sense of fullness within ears
● Blurred vision
● Headaches and migraines
● Stiff, sore, or tight neck muscles
● Muscle spasms
● Facial pain, including pain in the mouth, jaw, cheek, or chin
● Tongue pain
● Lump or pain near the temple area
● Shoulder pain
● Problems chewing
● Dislocated jaw
● Locked Jaw
● Vertigo or dizziness
● A tired feeling in the face
● Pain while chewing
● Uncomfortable bite
Diagnosing the Symptoms as TMJ
If you have noticed more than one of the above symptoms and believe you may have a temporomandibular joint disorder, you should see a doctor to receive a proper diagnosis.
The first person you should go see is usually your dentist. You can also visit your family doctor or see an ear, nose, and throat specialist. If the pain is terrible, you can even go straight to an oral surgeon for diagnosis and treatment.
Typically, when checking someone for TMJ, the doctor will examine the jaw joints for pain and tenderness. They also may listen closely for grating or clicking sounds that occur when you move your jaw and check to ensure your facial muscles are working properly. If further testing is needed, you may be asked to get X-Rays or even tests such as an MRI or CAT scan in order to rule out other diagnoses and get a better idea of what’s happening around the jaw.
Treatment for TMJ
Once your diagnosis is official, you will be eligible to receive proper treatment for your TMJ. Luckily, this disorder has many treatment options available. You can first begin treating it at home, but if you need something additional to treat the pain and symptoms, your doctor can provide further care.
Treating TMJ at Home
You can begin practicing self-care to treat your temporomandibular joint disorder and to find healing and relief. You should begin by trying the following:
● Eating – Eat soft foods that aren’t chewy and don’t require you to take wide bites.
● Medication – You can take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen.
● Posture – Practice proper posture and try not to rest your chin in your hand.
● Avoiding Unnecessary Pain – Avoid unnecessary jaw movements like chewing gum, cupping your chin when yawning, singing, or yelling.
● Bite Adjustment – As much as possible, you should try to keep your teeth slightly apart. Placing your tongue between your teeth is a good idea if you have trouble with clenching or grinding.
● Heat and Moisture – Using hot and cold packs on your jaw and facial side should help if you do it for about 10 minutes once a day.
● Relax – Meditation and mindful relaxation will help to loosen the jaw. Physical therapy may help with this as well.
● Massage – Lightly massage your jaw and neck muscles with gentle stretches to provide extra relief.
Treating TMJ Medically
If the pain in your jaw is persistent, you should see your doctor for any of the following types of treatment:
● Medication – Pain relievers, muscle relaxers, and anti-inflammatories can help.
● Oral equipment – Splints and mouth guards can fit over teeth or in the mouth to keep the jaw in the correct position.
● Physical therapy – Physical therapy can provide exercises to stretch out and strengthen your jaw muscles and joint.
● Surgery – If your TMJ is severe, there are surgical options including arthrocentesis, open joint operations, TMJ arthroscopy, and a modified condylotomy.
If you have TMJ, you should find peace in the fact that there are so many different ways to treat the pain and symptoms and find relief. The first step to relief is speaking to your dentist.
To schedule a consultation with a doctor that can help, call Crescent Heights Dental today. We can address your concerns and help you get back to a pain-free life.