What Your Jaw Pain Could Be Telling You
Has your jaw been feeling uncomfortable recently? Maybe you’ve noticed a dull ache when you wake up in the morning or stiffness in the jaw joint when eating and speaking. This discomfort around the jaw might also be accompanied by a headache and a general achy feeling in your teeth. A quick Google search might lead you to believe you have a TMJ disorder.
While temporomandibular joint disorders are a common reason for jaw pain coupled with headaches and teeth pain, this isn’t always the case.
Here are the answers to 6 important questions about TMJ disorders, and a few oral problems that share similar symptoms.
1. What is TMJ disorder and why does it happen?
Temporomandibular joint disorders are a category of oral disorders that largely impact the muscular, bone, and joint structures in the jaw and face. A TMD specifically impacts the temporomandibular joint in the jaw and the muscles and ligaments around it. It is the most frequently seen TMJ disorder and responsible for many cases of myofascial pain around the jaw, neck, and upper shoulders.
Determining the underlying cause of a TMJ disorder can be difficult and triggers for the disorder vary widely between individuals. A few examples of what could cause a TMJ disorder include:
- Injury or impact to the jaw and face.
- Malocclusion (poor bite alignment).
- Missing teeth leading to malocclusion.
- Arthritis reaching the jawbone.
- Undiagnosed/untreated bruxism.
- Dislocation of the joint itself.
2. What are the most common symptoms of TMJ disorder?
You may have a TMJ disorder if you’re experiencing:
- Jaw pain or stiffness.
- Headaches, especially in the morning.
- Earaches and a feeling of pressure.
- Pain in the neck, shoulders, or upper back.
- Limited mobility when opening your mouth.
- Audible or physical locking and clicking in the jaw.
- Change in your bite alignment or teeth shape.
- General feeling of pain in the teeth.
TMJ disorder symptoms can be barely noticeable to intensely uncomfortable, and they may be chronic or seem to come and go.
3. How can I tell if my symptoms point to a TMJ disorder?
Chances are high that you have a TMJ disorder if you’re otherwise in good health but are experiencing two or more of the symptoms listed above. However, self-diagnosing of any dental or medical condition isn’t a replacement for a professional evaluation with a GP or dentist. Always follow up with your healthcare professional of choice for an exam, diagnosis, and treatment plan.
4. Can my symptoms be caused by something else?
A big reason why self-diagnosing a TMJ disorder isn’t recommended is because it shares symptoms with other medical conditions. Your symptoms may point to a TMJ problem, when, in reality, there’s something else going on. Assuming you only have a TMJ issue can exacerbate symptoms and ultimately delay treatment for the real problem.
Examples of dental and medical conditions that can mimic symptoms of TMD include:
- Abscessed teeth causing widespread oral, facial, and jaw pain.
- Sinus infections causing earaches, headaches, and facial pain.
- Migraines causing chronic headache and associated pain.
- Trigeminal neuralgia causing nerve pain in the face and TMJ.
- Shingles causing facial pain before treatment.
- Post-herpetic neuralgia causing facial pain after shingles treatment.
5. How is TMJ disorder treated and reversed?
Here are a few ways TMJ disorder and causes can be treated:
- Myofunctional therapy to restore healthy jaw and facial muscle function.
- Oral appliances to protect teeth from bruxism (grinding or clenching).
- Dental implants to replace missing teeth and stop jawbone loss.
- Orthodontic care to realign a bad bite that’s causing TMJ pain.
- Medication to manage arthritis and other degenerative diseases.
- Medication to manage neuralgia and similar medical conditions.
Most dentists and doctors will use a combination of symptomatic treatment to help you get TMJ pain relief and direct treatment to reverse whatever the real cause of the disorder might be.
In very rare cases, the underlying cause may not be able to be found or fixed, which means long-term symptomatic care may be the only solution.
6. Can my dentist help treat my TMJ disorder?
Yes! Not all general and family dentists provide treatment for TMJ disorders, but the team at Ada Smile Place does. We believe in a “complete health” approach to dental care, which means we want to help every patient achieve optimal oral health and optimal physical wellness. This includes finding relief from problems like TMJ disorder that impact both the mouth and body.
We will evaluate your symptoms, thoroughly examine your jaw and bite alignment for abnormalities, and send these findings to your GP, who will then be able to form an official diagnosis for your condition. From there, we can begin treating your TMJ disorder with myofunctional therapy, orthodontic care, oral appliances, or restorative dental care.
Put an end to your TMJ pain by scheduling a consultation today.
If you suspect you’ve developed a TMJ disorder or you’re experiencing any TMJ-like symptoms, don’t postpone seeing your dentist for an evaluation. Even if you’re only experiencing mild or infrequent jaw pain, now is the time to get it taken care of before it has a chance to worsen.
You can schedule your consultation today by calling our Ada, OK, office or requesting a visit online.