The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a ball-and-socket joint that connects the jawbone to the skull. Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) effect the TMJ, often causing unexplained discomfort in the cheek, jaw, ear and surrounding tissue. Beyond chronic pain, TMD may alter jaw movement and function.

Common TMD Conditions

Patients suffering from a TMJ disorder frequently experience one of the following conditions:

  • Myofacial Pain: Anything from dull aches to a sharp sensation in the muscles, which affects jaw function. In some cases, discomfort may stem from teeth grinding.
  • Internal Joint Derangement: Indicates a disc may have slipped, the jaw may be dislocated or the condyle has been injured.
  • Arthritis: A degenerative, inflammatory disease that directly affects the joint.

In all three instances, patients can display a combination of the following symptoms:

  • Clicking: A clicking sensation around the joint, in which you may even feel the disc shifting. While many people live with this condition without experiencing any major issues, get medical attention if pain accompanies the clicking or if the joint feels stuck.
  • Muscle Pain: Especially in the large muscles of the cheeks and temples, muscle pain may indicate a patient is dealing with chronic teeth clenching, grinding or biting down. The pain tends to be more prominent in the morning and is typically joined by a stiff jaw.
  • Sharp Joint Pain: If the pain feels like it’s coming directly from the joint, not the surrounding muscles, a patient may be experiencing arthritis. It may be accompanied by tooth and jaw alignment issues, teeth grinding or jaw dislocation.

Stress may exacerbate these issues, causing patients to further experience headaches, sore cheeks, ear pain, tight jaw or difficulty chewing.

Pain or soreness in this area isn’t always a TMJ disorder. Because the nerve network connects your teeth, sinuses, jaw, neck and back, pain around your jaw could be a symptom of another condition. Make an appointment with your dentist to eliminate other possible causes.

Treatment for TMJ Disorders

Depending on the evaluation of your condition, a treatment plan may entail:

  • Self-Managed Care: Ice the area regularly, eat mostly soft foods and avoid moving your jaw excessively.
  • Orthopedic Approach: Less invasive and more common than surgical methods, this plan may involve medications to relax the muscles, alternating ice with warming packs, and physical therapy or massage to stretch and strengthen the joint muscles. A patient may also be guided toward Botox, cortisone injections or lavage to flush debris from the joint.
  • Surgery: Depending on the state of your jaw, joint replacement may be the best option.
  • Addressing Malocclusions: For misalignments, missing teeth and incorrect bites, dental work including crowns or reshaping may help alleviate some TMD symptoms.

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