What do I do if I’m having TMJ pain?

First, what exactly is TMJ?

TMJ is an abbreviation for the temporomandibular joint. Your TMJ is like any other joint in your body, and good preventive health habits will help a lifetime of happy smiles and chewing.

The TMJ is located at the base of the skull in front of the ear structure and connects the lower jaw with the upper jaw. Unlike most joints located in the body, the TMJ is unique in its structure, composed of a rounded protrusion of the mandible that sits against an indentation in the skull, and a disc-like structure made of a soft bone called cartilage found in between the two bones.

How does the TMJ work:

The TMJ works in two ways to open your mouth.

  • The first way is like a hinge to simply open and close the mouth, like a hinge on a door.
  • The second way is a sliding motion where your lower jaw moves down and forward. This motion helps the TMJ to move backward and forward and from side to side for actions such as eating and yawning.

What can happen to the TMJ?

A variety of symptoms may be linked to TMJ disorders. Pain, particularly in the chewing muscles or jaw joint, is the most common symptom. Like any other joint in the body, the TMJ can be fractured. A TMJ fracture can swell and become sore, causing limited movement of the lower jaw and pain radiating to the head and neck area.

Other symptoms include:

  • Radiating pain in the face, jaw, or neck
  • Jaw muscle stiffness
  • Limited movement or locking of the jaw
  • Painful clicking, popping or grating in the jaw joint when opening and closing the mouth
  • A change in the way the upper and lower teeth fit together

What Causes TMJ Pain?

Sometimes, pain can come from the teeth themselves, as opposed to the TMJ and surrounding ligaments.

Work or personal stress can be a source of aggressive jaw activity, according to the American College of Prosthodontists, and a general dentist, orthodontist or prosthodontist are the most qualified people to look at your teeth and determine if this is the cause.

Clenching can also cause TMJ pain, and some patients exhibit this behavior at night while sleeping.

How to treat TMJ Pain:

Pain in the TMJ is often temporary, and can be treated with a combination of ice then heat to relieve the sore ligaments and muscles surrounding the joint. Over-the-counter pain medicines or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, may provide temporary relief from jaw discomfort.

Your dentist may also prescribe a clear plastic bite/night guard, fabricated to help alleviate your symptoms after a thorough diagnosis has been made.

Although rare, surgery is sometimes required to correct TMJ problems. A referral to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon is sometimes appropriate and special imaging pictures of the joint may need to be taken to determine if surgery should be a part of your TMJ treatment.

You can also try eating soft foods, avoiding extreme jaw movements and practice gentle jaw stretching and relaxing exercises.

For most people, discomfort from TMJ disorders will eventually go away
on its own. Just like keeping your teeth healthy, your TMJ should warrant regular visits to your dentist to prevent complications during a routine dental exam.

Call us at 717-761-0341 to schedule an appointment!