Do you suffer from chronic facial pain, jaw pain, or headaches? The source of these aches and pains may be related to one or both of your temporomandibular (TM) joints. The TM joint is a hinge that connects your jaw to your skull (source). It allows you to move the jaw up and down and side to side, so you can talk, chew, and yawn. But when this joint is injured or damaged, it can lead to a localized pain disorder called temporomandibular joint syndrome, or simply TMJ. Symptoms of TMJ vary from jaw popping to facial tenderness and swelling. An early diagnosis could help relieve these symptoms and prevent new ones from developing.
What Causes It?
Potential causes of TMJ include genetics, hormones, low-level infections, and autoimmune diseases. Stress is also thought to be a factor, especially when it leads to excessive clenching or grinding of the teeth. Additionally, injury to your jaw, the TM joint, or the muscles of your head and neck, like from a heavy blow or whiplash, can all lead to TMJ or TMJ-like symptoms.
What Are the Symptoms of TMJ?
TMJ often causes severe pain and discomfort. It can be temporary or last many years, and it may affect one or both sides of your face. Common symptoms of TMJ include the following:
- Pain or tenderness of your jaw or TM joints
- Aching pain in and around your ear
- Difficulty chewing or pain while chewing
- Aching facial pain
- Locking of the joint, making it difficult to open or close your mouth
- Problems when you try to open your mouth wide
- Swelling on the side of your face
- Clicking, popping, or grating sounds in the jaw joint
Other, less-common symptoms of TMJ include toothaches, headaches, neck aches, dizziness, earaches, hearing problems, upper shoulder pain, and ringing in the ears (tinnitus). Experiencing a few of these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you have TMJ. However, if you are experiencing chronic facial or jaw pain, it’s best to see your dentist or doctor.
Are You at Risk?
- Poor posture in the neck and upper back muscles may lead to neck strain and abnormalities of jaw muscle function.
- Stress may increase muscle tension and jaw clenching.
- Women 18-44 years of age have increased risk.
- Patients with other chronic inflammatory arthritis have increased risk.
- People with jaw trauma or poorly positioned teeth have increased risk.
- People who have a genetic predisposition to pain sensitivity and increased stress responses may be more susceptible.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Diagnosis is an important step before TMJ treatment. At present, there is no widely accepted, standard test to correctly identify TMJ. In most cases, your description of symptoms, combined with a simple physical examination of the face and jaw by your dentist, provides useful information for diagnosing this disorder.
Your dentist may also take x-rays and make a cast of your teeth, to see how your bite fits together, or request specialized x-rays for the TM joints. Your complete medical history may be reviewed as well, so it is important to keep your dental office record up to date when looking for a diagnosis.
At Duff Family Dental, our dentists can examine your mouth to help diagnose TMJ early, before you experience severe symptoms. We also offer effective TMJ treatment and other general dentistry services, like root canals and dental implants. With our experienced team of dental professionals, you can relax knowing that you’re in good hands. If you’re interested in learning more about whether our TMJ treatments will work for you, feel free to schedule an appointment online or call us at 417-501-8601. We look forward to hearing from you!