TMJ And Jaw Pain ... A Pain In The Neck

by Dr. Edmond Suh // April - May - June 2020

Pain of any kind is not welcome, but pain in your jaw can be miserable. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which connects your jawbone to your skull on each side of your face, is capable of both rotational and translational movements. It works to allow movements from side to side, up and down, and grinding and hinging, making it one of the most complex joints in the human body. Its functions are key to everyday activities like chewing your food and speaking. So, if you are experiencing persistent pain or tenderness in your jaw, or you struggle to open or close your jaw completely, you should seek treatment from your dentist, doctor, or TMJ specialist, as you may have a TMJ disorder.

Conditions that affect the temporomandibular joint specifically are referred to as TMJ disorders. Many people think these disorders are caused by some type of jaw trauma. Yes, they can be a result of injury, but TMJ disorders are a broad category, so more times than not, they are caused by a combination of factors like genetics or clenching or grinding teeth (called bruxism).

Other common causes of TMJ disorders include: erosion of the disks in the joint; the jaw being out of alignment; damage to the cartilage in the jaw; various types of arthritis, including rheumatoid and osteoarthritis; and certain connective tissue disorders.

How do you know when you are experiencing TMJ disorders? There are a number of common symptoms typically associated with them, including:
– Pain or achiness in the jaw, neck, face, back, and shoulders, and earaches or pain around the ear that spreads to the cheeks;
– Pain when chewing;
– Headaches and/or dizziness;
– Buzzing or ringing in the ears;
– Popping, clicking, or even grinding of the jaw that can occur while eating, talking, or simply opening the mouth;
– Muscle spasms or swelling in the jaw and face;
– Restricted movement that prevents the mouth from opening fully;
– Locking of the jaw, making it difficult to shut your mouth.

About 12% of the U.S. population experiences some sort of TMJ symptoms regularly, with women being affected more than men. Approximately 17.8 million workdays are lost by these who suffer from them, due to lack of sleep and pain. Getting enough sleep is important for controlling inflammation, but for those with this disorder, this may be a challenge. Stress also adds to the causes of TMJ disorders. Self-care treatments such as relaxation exercises and jaw stretching may help with both sleep difficulties and stress. Avoiding gum chewing and jaw clenching and eating only soft foods can help relieve discomfort. A mouth guard to help prevent teeth grinding or clenching during sleep may also help ease symptoms. Physical therapy exercises that strengthen muscles and improve flexibility and range of motion are helpful treatment options. Some sufferers may benefit from short-term over-the-counter medications for pain relief. In more extreme cases, steroids or surgery may be the best options for the treatment of pain and restricted movement.

While a TMJ disorder is often not serious, not treating it can impair one’s quality of life. Without treatment, this disorder can lead to long-term damage and orthodontic complications. So seek medical advice if you are experiencing persistent jaw pain, or if you are unable to completely open or close your jaw. You dentist, doctor, or TMJ specialist can discuss possible causes and treatments for your condition

Dr. Edmond Suh

Owner of Supremia Dentistry, located at 1711 S. Main St. in Wake Forest.