Your temporomandibular joints, or jaw joints, connect your lower jawbone to your skull. As you…
Do you have a smarting, aching jaw? Jaw pain can get in the way of talking, eating and resting comfortably. If you’re having trouble biting into a crisp apple or find yourself subconsciously rubbing your jaw to get rid of the pain, you may have TMJ disorder.
TMJ disorder means pain of the temporomandibular joint, which can stem from many different causes. The temporomandibular joints are two joints that connect the jawbone to the skull. Both joints act in tandem like a hinge. Since our jaws are so mobile and frequently used throughout the day, acute pain in the TMJ joint can be debilitating.
The human jaw is unique in its structure since it opens and closes, but also slides forward and backward. This sliding motion is called translation. We slide our mouths when we talk, yawn and eat. Try and notice this movement next time you sit down for a meal!
TMJ pain is pretty hard to ignore. There are some clear symptoms, however, that differentiate TMJ disorder from regular old jaw pain:
- Jaw clicking, popping or locking
- Headaches or earaches
- Pain when the mouth is opened wide
- Tenderness of the jaw muscles
- Difficulty or pain while chewing
- Aching facial pain
Needless to say, TMJ disorder isn’t much fun. In order to alleviate the symptoms, you’ll need to get to the root of the cause. Although this is not an extensive list, TMJ disorder can stem from any of the following:
- Injury to the jaw
- Long-term teeth grinding or clenching
- Connective tissue diseases
- Poor tooth or jaw alignment
It can be hard to know what to do if you’re experiencing serious jaw pain. People are used to going to their dentist for regular teeth cleanings, not for joint issues.
But fear not, dentists are trained to identify and assess jaw disorders. Making an appointment with your regular dentist is the best place to start if you have disconcerting pain in your jaw that doesn’t seem to be going away on its own.
Your dentist is trained to assess your entire dental system, not just your teeth. Your dentist may need to refer you to a specialist to get you the right treatment plan, but they can be the first stop on your route to wellness.
If your jaw pain stems from clenching your teeth, your dentist will likely prescribe you a mouthguard. These are good for overnight wear since most teeth grinding occurs while we sleep. People often don’t realize they’re chronic teeth grinders until a loved one tells them they heard them while asleep, or until a dentist explains the extent of the damage. Wearing a mouthguard overnight takes a bit of getting used to, but it’s worth the peace of mind to know your teeth and jaw aren’t taking any more wear and tear.
Your dentist may also refer you to different types of dental specialists to correct the systemic issues causing your TMJ disorder. More intensive options include:
- Orthodontics. An orthodontist specializes in teeth and jaw alignment. TMJ pain can spring from poor jaw alignments, such as underbite or overbite. Braces can also help bring the teeth into better form, helping you keep your mouth in the right position. Orthodontia can alleviate TMJ disorder in many cases.
- Arthrocentesis. Despite the long and complicated sounding name, arthrocentesis is actually a minimally invasive procedure. Small needles are inserted into the TMJ joint to irrigate fluid, debris and inflammatory byproducts.
- Surgery. Surgery can be done on the TMJ joint or the jaw itself, depending on the source of the pain. If there are serious structural issues in the mouth that orthodontia alone can’t correct, your dentist may refer you to a dental surgeon with experience in treating complicated cases of TMJ disorder.
- Injections. If you’re suffering from arthritis or chronic inflammation in the TMJ joint, an injection of corticosteroid could bring huge relief. If your TMJ pain isn’t responding to other therapies, then injections are an option for symptom relief.
There are some natural remedies you can try before seeking medical treatment. Oftentimes, jaw pain originates from stress, overactive jaw muscles, and harsh use. Massage can work wonders for sore muscles. You can easily give yourself a jaw massage, enlist a loved one or seek out a professional for more in-depth treatment. Relaxation techniques can also help you manage TMJ pain. Deep breathing, visualization and taking time in nature are all simple but effective ways to wind down. Biofeedback can also be helpful: small electronic machines precisely monitor the tension you’re holding in your jaw muscles and can help you consciously relax them.
Temporomandibular joint disorder is quite a mouthful! It’s painful and gets in the way of life. Fortunately, you don’t have to live with it. There are treatments ranging from non-invasive relaxation therapy to corrective surgery. You use your jaw day in and day out for many basic but necessary functions. If you feel something is wrong, don’t hesitate to seek out a solution.
For the top dentists in Rosedale, downtown Toronto and the GTA, contact Dawson Dental at 1-877-542-2043. You can also contact us here. We’re a full-service dental practice offering a broad spectrum of care. We have locations across Ontario to serve you best.