Pain in your jaw and face can be insufferable, and it’s even worse when you’re not sure what’s causing it. For some, facial pain is related to a temporomandibular joint disorder. But what causes TMJ disorder? And are there certain risk factors?
Find out what causes TMJ disorder and how to treat it here.
What is TMJ?
The temporomandibular joint is a hinge-like joint that connects your upper and lower jawbones.
Your TMJ consists of muscles, ligaments, and bones that move your jaw in all directions. However, when this joint isn’t working properly, it could mean you’re experiencing a TMJ disorder.
What Is TMJ Disorder?
TMJ disorder is a dysfunction of the jaw muscles and nerves, which causes inflammation of the temporomandibular joint. An injured or inflamed TMJ can lead to clicking, popping, or discomfort when opening and closing your mouth. The condition may be acute or chronic, with pain ranging from mild to severe
What Causes TMJ Disorder?
While TMJ disorder symptoms are easy to notice, it’s much harder to determine what’s causing your pain.
Your dentist may not be able to identify what’s causing your TMJ pain, but there are several causes of TMJ,such as:
Missing teeth causing an uneven biting surface
Arthritis in the joint
Connective tissue diseases
Disc erosion in the jaw
Overuse of the jaw
Stress or anxiety causing you to tighten your facial muscles
Grinding and clenching teeth
A jaw injury like whiplash
Chronic TMJ disorders are likely caused by damage to the joint, arthritis, or illness. If you’re experiencing sudden TMJ pain, trauma to the jaw is a likely culprit. Your TMJ can become bruised, dislocated, or suffer damage when met with harsh impact. So if you’ve recently been in an accident or sustained a blow to the jaw, that may be the cause of an onset TMJ disorder.
Grinding your teeth, also known as bruxism, is also a probable cause of some TMJ disorders. Oral health issues, such as damaged teeth or gum disease, may also cause TMJ pain.
Does TMJ Disorder Go Away?
Minor cases of TMJ disorder will usually go away on their own. Most TMD symptoms last anywhere from a few days to a few months. Chronic TMJ disorders, however, can produce dull, aching pain for months or years.
TMJ Disorder Symptoms
To understand TMD and what’s causing it, it helps to know what symptoms to look for. If you’ve experienced any of the following symptoms, you may have a TMJ disorder:
Pain or tenderness in your jaw, face, neck, and shoulders
Pain in and around your ears
Hearing problems or ringing in the ears
Swelling on the sides of your face
Difficulty chewing or opening and closing mouth
Symptoms of TMJ disorder may range from mild to debilitating pain and discomfort. These symptoms can also be related to other conditions, which is why it’s important to see a dentist or medical professional for TMJ treatment.
Types of TMJ Disorder
TMJ disorders fall into three categories: muscle disorders, degenerative joint disorders, and internal derangement disorders. Each of these can be experienced on its own or you can have more than one.
Muscle disorders - Muscle disorders are the most common type of TMD. This disorder is caused by periodic grinding and clenching of the jaw muscles. Muscle disorders are distinguished by pain and discomfort in the muscles that control jaw function.
Degenerative joint disorders - Degenerative joint disorders are primarily caused by aging or overuse of the jaw muscles. This type of disorder is also triggered by osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or disc erosion in the jaw. Other risk factors include poorly aligned or dislocated bites.
Internal derangement disorders - Internal derangement disorders are caused by a structural deformity of the jaw. Cause factors include displaced TMJ discs, severe facial trauma, and jaw dislocation.
How Is TMJ Disorder Diagnosed?
Tooth decay, sinus problems, and gum disease all present symptoms similar to TMJ disorder. To diagnose your symptoms, a dentist will ask about your health history and perform an oral exam. They’ll also assess for pain and tenderness and listen for popping or clicking sounds when you move your jaw.
Your dentist may also take X-rays so they can rule out other dental problems.
How Is TMJ Disorder Treated?
For most, symptoms of TMJ disorders are treated with at-home practices, including:
Dentist-recommended jaw exercises to improve movement
Over the counter medicines
Soft food diet
Use heating pads and ice packs to reduce swelling
Avoid chewing gum or wide-mouthed yawns
You may need help from your doctor or dentist if TMD symptoms don’t improve with these treatments. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may also be prescribed the following:
Medications to relax the jaw muscles
Medications to reduce swelling
Steroid or botox injections
Dental splints or bite guards to prevent teeth grinding
In rare cases, TMJ surgery may be recommended to treat your condition. Because of its risks, TMJ surgery is only an option when conservative treatments fail to treat symptoms. It’s generally safer to try non-surgical, non-invasive treatment options first.
If you’d like a second opinion about managing your TMD, our dentists provide TMJ treatment in Omaha, NE. During your consultation, we’ll provide you with a list of treatment options for your TMJ disorder.