Updated: Jan 19
The temperomandibular joints (TMJ) consist of two hinge points that connect your lower jawbone to the skull. These joints work in unison with surrounding tendons, muscle and meniscus to facilitate many of our basic physiological functions including movements for chewing, biting, talking, and even breathing. For such a complex and critical anatomical component, the TMJ is also extremely prone to injury and inflammation.
This can set off a wide array of symptoms, which are collectively referred to as TMD or temperomandibular disorders. According to recent estimates at least 5 to 12% of the American population suffers from the effects of TMD.
What Causes TMJ Pain?
Although scientists have yet to pinpoint a specific cause for TMD, we know that there are several factors that can contribute to its symptoms. These include:
Direct blows to the jaw, neck, or head. Or even related injuries such as whiplash.
Constant grinding and clenching of the teeth (bruxism) which causes additional pressure on the TMJ
Poor posture of the neck and back can cause muscular imbalances to develop around the jawbone.
Chronic joint inflammation due to arthritis.
Stress which leads to consistent tensing of the joint.
Misalignment of the jaw.
Symptoms of TMD
There are a number of other issues which could be caused by an impacted TMJ.
Pain and increased sensitivity in the jaw, neck, cheek and ears.
Headaches and migraines.
Stiffness and soreness around the jaw and neck.
Pain and popping sounds in the ear.
Dizziness and blurred vision.
Stuck or locked jaw.
Clicking or popping noises when the jaw is opened and closed.
If you are regularly experiencing any of these symptoms then you should talk to your dentist about the possibility of TMD treatment. Your dentist will perform a thorough assessment which covers your medical history as well as a physical examination of the jawbone to determine the origin and severity of the pain. The dentist may also check the positioning of your jaw with a CO/CR comparison, a misalignment in positioning can increase pressure on the joint, increasing the possibility of inflammation and injury. An additional X-Ray will help to rule out other possibilities such as lupus or gout.
Treatment of TMJ Pain
TMJ-related pain will generally resolve of its own accord in due time. However, in some cases patients experience reoccurring symptoms that become progressively severe over their lifetimes. Initially, most healthcare practitioners will look to treat TMJ pain through non-invasive remedies. These could include:
A bite plate or mouth guard to prevent tooth grinding during sleep.
Over the counter medications including analgesics. In certain situations prescription relaxants and NSAIDs may also be administered by your dentist.
Joint exercises that are designed to increase the mobility, strength, and stability of your joints and muscles.
Dietary changes including restrictions in crunchy or chewy foods.
Relaxation and stretching exercises.
If these frontline treatments are not effective, then your dentist may turn towards other options.
Your dentist may fit a specialized dental splint which helps to align and separate the jaw.
In severe cases an oral surgery may be required. An arthroscopy may be performed to examine the internal structure of the joint and resolve any imbalances. For more advanced issues a total joint replacement could be needed.