Pain in the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is a relatively common condition – but is also potentially debilitating. TMJ problems relentlessly plague sufferers, making it difficult to eat or speak properly. Because it’s not well understood and is frequently under-reported, many suffer needlessly from TMJ jaw pain.
What is the temporomandibular joint?
Put simply, the temporomandibular joint is the structure that attaches your jaw to your skull. It has an amazing range of motion to allow for proper eating, speaking, and even yawning. Unlike other joints in the body, the temporomandibular joint rotates and slides in a wide range of combinations. It also has near-constant motion during your waking hours.
What is a TMJ disorder?
Any persistent problem in the temporomandibular joint is called a TMJ disorder. Some TMJ disorders result from habits such as clenching your jaw, or sleep issues such as tooth grinding. Others come as secondary complications to systemic diseases and conditions, such as rheumatic arthritis.
How do TMJ disorders occur?
It’s not entirely clear how the vast majority of TMJ disorders develop. While it appears that mechanical damage and repetitive strain may play a part, many people suffer from TMJ problems when nothing in their daily lives set them apart from people with no such pain. Women are more likely to develop TMJ pain than men, so researchers believe that hormone differences may contribute to the development.
How do you know if you have a TMJ disorder?
A number of issues are often mistaken for TMJ disorders, including unexplained clicking in the jaw and pain from dental readjustment.
True TMJ problems are characterized by:
- Radiating pain and changes in the set of your teeth
- Chewing may be difficult
- The jaw may lock or lose some range of motion
- The pain is usually sharpest at the joint, but may radiate to your neck, ear and face
How is TMJ diagnosed?
Conclusive testing for TMJ disorders is almost impossible. There is no definite cause, and therefore no true test to either confirm or rule out the problem. More often, doctors base their diagnosis on patient reports of their symptoms and pain levels, as well as imaging and oral examination.
What treatments are available for TMJ?
There are a number of conservative methods of pain management, including:
- Using gentle stretches and relaxation techniques to loosen the jaw muscles
- Reducing overall stress levels
- Eating soft foods as often as possible
- Abstaining from chewing gum
- Avoiding anything that requires the mouth to open abnormally wide
- Using ice packs for temporary pain relief
If you are grinding your teeth at night your dentist may recommend a splint while you sleep to ease tension in your jaw.
If alignment of your teeth and jaw are a contributing factor, corrective treatments to replace missing teeth or orthodontic work to correct a bite problem may be considered.
A referral to a physiotherapist may also be an option to help alleviate the associated muscle pain that occurs with true TMJ disorders.
Make an appointment for your dentist to assess your jaw for possible TMJ problems
If you have unexplained jaw pain, we will take the time to:
- Examine your teeth for chips, cracks, or other damage that could explain the pain.
- Compare your current teeth against previous imaging, casts of your teeth and bite data to determine if the way your teeth come together has significantly changed.
- Use imaging to show any fractures on or around your jaw, and possibly reveal density abnormalities in the joint itself.
Don’t just ignore TMJ jaw pain. It can usually be effectively managed to reduce the impact of the disorder on your life.Contact Centre Street Dental today and see how we can help you.