TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. It is a hinge-like joint that connects the lower jaw and the temporal bone found in front of the ear. The joint effectively connects the lower jaw and the skull. We have two temporomandibular joints, one on each side of the jaw.
The TMJs are the joints that make it possible for us to move, open and close our mouths; allowing us to yawn, talk and chew. For many people, TMJ pain is ‘one of those things you live with.’ If you are one of them, then read on to find out how TMJ is diagnosed and treated.
About TMJ pain
TMJ pain or TMJD is a disorder of the hinged joints that connect the lower jaw and the skull. The term TMJD stands for a temporomandibular joint disorder, a condition which has no single agreed-upon cause.
In each case, it is caused by a different set of contributing factors. For example, a person’s TMJD may be caused by jaw clenching yet a second person that also clenches and grinds their jaw may never experience TMJD.
There are several factors that cause TMJ pain:
- Injuries, like a blow to the jaw or whiplash
- Teeth grinding (Bruxism)
- Jaw clenching
- Stress that causes teeth grinding and jaw clenching
- A hereditary jaw or dental condition
- Movement or deterioration of the soft padding inside the joint
- Misalignment of the teeth and jaw (malocclusion)
It is worth noting that clenching the jaw and grinding the teeth can be caused by stress or a malocclusion. So to treat TMJD in such a case, the stress or the malocclusion must be treated. This is the only way to permanently stop the bruxism and jaw clenching that in turn causes the TMJD.
Signs and symptoms of TMJD
TMJD affects both the TMJs and the muscles that surround them. It causes discomfort and makes it difficult for the mouth to function as it should. Some common symptoms of TMJ pain are:
- Sore, painful jaws
- Pain inside and around the ear
- Pain in one or both TMJs
- Pain in the facial muscles in the lower part of the face
- Locking of the jaw that makes it difficult to open and/or close the mouth
- Pain and/or difficulty when chewing because of the constant locking of the jaw
- A popping or clicking sound when the jaw is opened and closed
- Migraines and ringing ears
How TMJD is diagnosed
In many cases, TMJ pain goes away on its own. But if the symptoms persist for weeks or even months, it would be wise to consult a doctor. There is no single medical certification for the treatment of TMJD. The patient should probably begin by asking a dentist who is trained and experienced in treating TMJ disorders.
Here is how a dentist diagnoses TMJD:
1. The dentist visually checks for decayed and damaged teeth. They may order x-rays to check for disease of the gum or jawbone.
2. To eliminate other health conditions, the dentist may also request tests to check the sinuses. They may even test for tetanus.
3. The dentist listens for popping or clicking sounds as the patient opens and closes the mouth.
4. They check if there is any limitation in the jaw’s range of movement.
5. The doctor may request an MRI to check for slipped or worn out disks in the joints.
Once the dentist confirms that the pain is caused by TMJD, they can begin treatment.
Treatment and management of TMJD
1. A way of treating TMJ pain is by using medication to remove inflammation and pain. Muscle relaxants may be prescribed to mitigate the clenching of the jaw.
2. A second way of treating TMJD is by using therapy. If misaligned jaws and teeth cause the TMJD, orthodontic or dental treatment can be done. To prevent teeth grinding during sleep, mouth guards and splints may also be prescribed.
3. Physical therapy is used to stretch and relax the TMJ and the muscles that surround them. Stretching exercises, heat treatment, and ultrasounds are all used to increase the range of motion of the jaws.
4. Depending on the specific problem, damage or deterioration in the jaw can be corrected surgically by an oral, orthodontic or maxillofacial surgeon.
5. Home remedies like the application of wet heat to the jaw, stretching exercises, jaw massages, and stress reduction can all manage TMJ pain.
It is not just in your head
TMJ pain can affect your quality of life, and you should not ‘just deal with it.’ Take the first step and see one of our dentists to find out why your jaw hurts all the time.
Let’s get started…
Call (972) 972-4646 today to reach Archway Dental.