Between five and 12 percent of the population suffer from TMJ disorders, says the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. While these disorders are more common among women than men, they are also more common in younger people (20 to 40) than older.
So what is TMJ and what are the symptoms associated with pain? TMJ describes the temporomandibular joint that connects your jawbone to your skull. Acting like a sliding hinge, most times, this joint works smoothly and you aren’t even aware of its operation. However, in people with TMJ disorders, there may be pain in this joint as well as the muscles that control jaw movement.
Perhaps you have used the terms TMD and TMJ interchangeably in the past. However, there is a distinction. TMD stands for temporomandibular joint disorder and refers to dysfunction of the TMJ, which happens when the ligaments and muscles around the jaw joints start to get irritated or inflamed.
It’s not always easy to pinpoint the cause. In fact, there may be a range of factors that could contribute to it, such as injury, arthritis, or genetics. Many people who suffer from TMJ pain also grind or clench their teeth (known as bruxism). You will be happy to know, however, that TMJ pain is usually temporary and may be managed at home with self-care measures.
Sometimes, it can be managed with non-surgical treatments by a dentist. Surgery is rarely used and is only considered as a last resort when nothing else has worked.
TMJ Pain: Risk Factors
You may be at a higher risk of getting TMJ if you:
- Have rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis
- Sustained an injury to the jaw
- Have a history of grinding or clenching your teeth
- Have a connective tissue disease
You may wonder what can cause TMJ pain. Many times, it has to do with the bones that interact with the joint. These are covered in cartilage to ensure smooth gliding, and they are separated by a small disk that absorbs shock. You may have pain if:
- The disk has eroded or moved and has become improperly aligned
- Arthritis has damaged the cartilage of the joint
- Impact or injury has damaged the joint
It’s not always immediately apparent what has caused your TMJ disorder, which is a good reason to get an official diagnosis from a dentist or doctor.
TMJ Disorders: Symptoms
From a jaw that locks to pain when chewing, check out these common symptoms of TMJ disorders:
- Pain in the temporomandibular joints
- Jaw pain and/or tenderness
- Ear ache
- Difficulty with chewing
- Facial aches
- Locking of the joint
- Pain when chewing
- Pain in the shoulders or neck
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Changes in how your teeth fit together
- Tooth pain
- Facial swelling
- Clicking or popping sound when chewing and/or grating sensation
Regarding this last point, if there is no pain associated with the grinding or clicking, you probably don’t have a TMJ disorder.
Are you experiencing the above symptoms for a prolonged period of time? See your dentist in Piedmont. They will:
- Observe the jaw’s range of motion
- Listen to and feel your jaw when you open and close your mouth
- Press on certain areas around the jaw to identify the origin of your pain or discomfort
- Order x-rays if a problem is suspected
- Order an MRI if necessary for images of the joint’s disk or soft tissue surrounding it
- Order a CT scan if necessary for images of bones in the joint
TMJ Disorder: Treatment
Usually, symptoms will dissipate without treatment. If they are persistent, though, ask your dentist to recommend one of the following treatment options:
- Pain relievers and anti-inflammatories. If OTC pain meds aren’t doing the trick, ask for prescription strength ibuprofen to be used for a limited time.
- Tricyclic antidepressants. These are usually given for the treatment of depression, but they can be used in low doses for pain relief and bruxism control.
- Muscle relaxants. These can be used on a temporary basis to relieve muscle spasm pain.
Non-drug therapies for TMJ disorders include:
- Occlusal appliances: Oral splints or mouth guards are soft or firm devices that you can insert over the teeth.
- Physical therapy. You can do exercises to stretch out and strengthen the muscles of the jaw. You can also regularly apply heat and ice to the area.
- Lifestyle changes. Avoid teeth clenching or grinding, biting fingernails, and leaning on your chin.
Surgery and Other Procedures
Your dentist or doctor may recommend these options if nothing else has worked:
- Corticosteroid Injections
- Arthrocentesis: This is a minimally invasive procedure whereby small needles are inserted into the joint to irrigate fluid for debris removal.
- TMJ arthroscopy: This is when an arthroscope is inserted and small surgical instruments are utilized to perform surgery.
- Open-joint surgery can be used to repair or replace the joint but it’s a risky procedure performed as a last resort.
Make Your Appointment with Piedmont Oaks Dental Today
If you’ve been suffering from TMJ pain for a while now and need a solution that works, book your appointment with us today at (510) 654-6523. For your convenience, we are located at 1345 Grand Ave. Suite 103 in Piedmont, CA and our hours are Mon – Thu 8am to 5pm and Fridays 8am to 1pm.