The temporomandibular joint (TMJ), located on both sides of the jaw, connects the lower jawbone to the skull. It operates with a sliding motion to function like a hinge and is essential for chewing food and talking. Cartilage surrounds where the joint meets the skull. Unfortunately, you can experience pain within the joint itself or surrounding muscles that help it move.
Sources of pain include sudden or ongoing trauma, bite issues, arthritis and poor posture. You might experience tenderness around the jaw, unexplained facial pain, earaches and headaches, a combination of symptoms known as TMD or TMJ disorder.
If you have pain around the jaw that’s affecting how you eat and speak, here’s what you should know about TMJ disorders.
What Is a TMJ Disorder?
A TMJ disorder applies to varying degrees of dysfunction around this joint. Inflammation may cause you to experience acute or chronic pain. A number of factors can lead to the development of a TMJ disorder:
- Jaw injury
- Teeth clenching or grinding
- Jaw disc dislocation
- Bite misalignment
- Degenerative disc disease
As TMJ disorders can range in severity, the condition is divided into the following groups:
- Myofascial Pain: Involves the fascia and muscles surrounding the jaw and may extend to the neck and shoulder.
- Internal Derangement: The jawbone or disc has become dislocated or the jawbone has experienced an injury affecting how it connects to the skull.
- Degenerative: An inflammatory condition affects the TMJ, wears away the cartilage surrounding the joint, and increases the amount of pain felt.
A TMJ disorder may occur with or be worsened by arthritis, disc displacement, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, disc erosion or a sudden impact. In addition to these factors, you’re at higher risk of developing TMD if you grind your teeth, have a connective tissue disease or previous jaw injury.
Symptoms of a TMJ Disorder
Along with pain or tenderness around the jaw, other symptoms of TMJ disorder include:
- Pain or an aching sensation around the ear
- Difficulty chewing
- Facial pain or fatigue
- A locking jaw joint
- A clicking, popping or grinding sound as you chew
- Tooth pain
- Ringing in your ears
- Swelling on one side of your face
Diagnosing and Treating TMJ Disorder
Your dentist will start by feeling and listening to your jaw, identifying where you feel pain and looking for any restricted motion or modifying behaviors. You may have to undergo X-rays or another imaging procedure to examine the area in more detail.
Patients generally start with various non-surgical treatments, which may include:
- Pain management with an anti-inflammatory or prescription-strength pain reliever
- Wearing a mouthguard or nightguard to treat teeth clenching or grinding
- Taking a muscle relaxer to reduce tension in the area
- Undergoing physical therapy to strengthen the jaw muscles
- Making lifestyle modifications, including eating softer foods and lessening jaw movements while chewing and yawning
- Restorative dental procedures to correct teeth or bite issues, including bridges, crowns or braces
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), a therapy that uses small amounts of electrical current to relax your muscles
- Ultrasound to apply heat to the jaw muscles to relax the area
- Trigger point injections for longer-lasting pain management
Should non-surgical TMJ disorder treatments not yield effective results, patients may be recommended to undergo surgery.
If you think you could be experiencing a TMJ disorder, contact our Shelton office today.