Jaw Pain and Temporomandibular Joint Problems

There hasn’t been a definitive study, but as dentists, we know anecdotally that many adults, at some point, will experience jaw pain and pain associated with the face and head: ear pain, facial pain, pain when biting, etc.

Because there are so many possible causes of these types of pain, it’s difficult pinpoint the cause of the pain without some help from technology. So we conduct thorough exams and use X-rays to help us pinpoint the causes of jaw pain.

Among the top causes of jaw and facial pain in people:

  • arthritis
  • infections
  • tooth grinding or clenching
  • injury
  • periodontal disease
  • sinus issues
  • temporomandibular joint problems

Temporomandibular Disorder and Related Jaw Pain

If lower jaw pain and headaches are common for you, ask your dentist about temporomandibular disorder (TMD). Temporomandibular disorder is a very specific kind of jaw disorder that has a variety of symptoms which can affect your life in small, but important, ways.

The temporomandibular joint (or TMJ as it’s commonly referred to) is a hinge-like joint that forms the connection between your lower jaw (the mandible) and the temporal bone which is found just in front of each ear. When the TMJ is working correctly it allows your jaw to move up-and-down as well as side-to-side without any problems. A fully-functional TMJ also lets you do some very important things, including to talk, chew, and yawn. Joint position is controlled by the various muscles that are attached to the joint.

Common Symptoms of Temporomandibular Disorder

Symptoms of TMD are differ slightly from non-specific jaw problems. It’s typical that people who are experiencing TMD are experiencing more than one symptom which often helps us determine that TMD is the root cause of the pain. These symptoms can include:

  • Pain and/or tenderness in the TMJ area as well as the neck and shoulders
  • Decreased TMJ range of motion that limits the opening of the mouth
  • A ‘stuck’ or ‘locked’ jaw
  • Audible noise (clicking, grinding or popping) when opening and closing the mouth (may or may not be accompanied by pain)
  • Sudden discomfort when biting
  • Noticeable different in the way teeth fit together when the mouth is shut

Causes of Temporomandibular Disorder

We don’t really know what causes TMD, but we do know how some of the symptoms area caused – and (more importantly) how to help minimize or eliminate the pain of these symptoms. One of the major causes is injury to the jaw itself as the result of an impact, however an injury to the muscles of the neck and head (from whiplash or similar experience) can also lead to TMD symptoms.

Other possible causes of Temporomandibular Disorder can include:

  • Tooth-clenching or grinding which places pressure on the TMJ
  • Dislocation or degeneration of the soft disc between the ball and socket of the TMJ
  • Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in the TMJ
  • Constant tightening of the jaw and other facial muscles due to stress

How We Treat Temporomandibular Disorder and TMJ Issues

The first thing we do when you come in to our office with jaw pain is to perform a thorough examination of your mouth, which will help us eliminate some possibilities and hopefully point us toward the cause of your pain.

We’ll also take X-rays and ask questions that will help us determine what factors in your life may be causing the pain.

As for the remedy to jaw pain, that all depends on us finding the underlying cause. For some, an oral appliance may be all that’s needed to eliminate or reduce the pain. For more severe cases, surgery is an option.

The first step to reducing or eliminating your joint pain is to make an appointment so we can assess the situation and help you get on the road to a pain-free jaw.

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