Issues affecting the jaw can have far-ranging symptoms and effects on your oral health. One, in particular, TMJ, can continue to worsen and require treatment in order to alleviate discomfort and stop additional problems from occurring. Below we provide the important things you need to know about TMJ, including common symptoms and what to do if you experience them.
What is TMJ?
TMJ stands for Temporomandibular joint disorder. This disorder affects the joint, or hinge, connecting the jawbone to your skull on each side. It also involves jaw muscles and facial nerves.
More specifically, within the joint, cartilage is separated by a tiny disk that serves as a sort of shock absorber. TMJ may occur if this disk becomes misaligned or erodes over time. If left untreated, it can continue to worsen, eroding the joint and causing additional problems.
What Can Cause TMJ?
While it is not always simple to diagnose TMJ or its cause, in most instances, patients experience some level of teeth misalignment. Your dentist will notice this and will likely ask you questions to consider or rule out a TMJ diagnosis.
Another potential cause is bruxism, the clenching and grinding of teeth, usually at night as you sleep. If this grinding occurs long-term, the Temporomandibular joint can become damaged.
Other factors that can cause TMJ include genetics, a jaw injury, or various types of arthritis.
Symptoms of TMJ
Patients can experience any or all of the following symptoms of TMJ. Every case is different, so be sure to mention any of these to your dental team during your next visit.
Popping, Clicking, or Grating in the Jaw Area
Perhaps one of the most common symptoms is a popping, clicking, or grating in the jaw. This sound or sensation can occur whenever you yawn, speak, or even eat. While not a clear sign that you have TMJ, it is one to look out for and notify your dentist if you experience it often.
With jaw misalignment, patients with TMJ often have difficulties with chewing. The more severe the misalignment, the more the muscles of the mouth will attempt to compensate, and you can experience difficulty chewing certain foods. You may notice your teeth failing to close all the way as you bite down also, affecting your chewing ability.
Jaw Pain or Tenderness
When teeth are misaligned, the muscles attempt to compensate, and this can lead to pain or tenderness in the jaw area. Pain can occur when eating, speaking, or yawning. You may also feel a referred pain in your ear.
Overworked Facial Muscles
Since the muscles of the mouth are working overtime, your face may feel tired and may sag at times. You’ll begin to recognize this the more it happens and will want to ask your dentist about it.
Your jaw may suddenly lock up as you open wide and then attempt to close your mouth. This locking or limitation of movement may only occur for a second or two, then will usually pop back into action with a clicking sound.
Occasionally, a patient will experience mild or severe swelling on one side of the face. This swelling can mean that there is inflammation within the joint.
Pain in Other Areas
You may experience pain in other areas and not attribute it to your jaw. These pains occur in the neck, shoulder, and even in teeth. You may also begin to get more headaches that you are unable to explain.
How is TMJ Diagnosed?
TMJ is not always easy to diagnose. Symptoms are common to other causes and may not directly point to a misalignment. Your dentist may ask you about the symptoms listed above and also whether you experience dizziness, have ringing in your ears, or believe your hearing is affected.
You will also receive an oral exam, including the feeling of the jaw as you open and close. Your dentist will look for what range of motion you have and lightly press on specific areas to determine where you experience discomfort and pain.
Following the exam, your dentist may decide you need dental X-rays, a CT scan to get a closer look at the bones comprising the joint, or an MRI to detect issues within the soft tissues or the shock-absorbing disk.
Less common but still valuable is TMJ arthroscopy, where a thin tube will be inserted into the joint space along with a tiny camera to help get a closer look before making a definitive diagnosis.
If you experience persistent tenderness or pain in the jaw or face areas or find that locking of the jaw is occurring, make an appointment and discuss these as soon as possible.
What Treatments are Available for TMJ?
You may discover that the discomfort experienced as a result of TMJ is only occasional or temporary and may eventually go away on its own. There are things you can do at home to help, including resting the joint, taking pain relievers, avoiding chewy foods and gum, and noticing if you are grinding your teeth at night.
If the discomfort does not go away, you may be prescribed medications such as anti-inflammatories, pain relievers, or muscle relaxers. Mouth guards or oral splints may be given to you to wear as well. In extreme cases, patients may need to undergo physical therapy or surgery.
Learn More About TMJ at Lifetime Dental Health
When it comes to your oral health, TMJ can wreak havoc, causing pain and discomfort and longer-term issues. If you currently experience symptoms associated with TMJ or want to learn more, call our office today at 614-321-1895 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Richard Barry and his team at Lifetime Dental Health.