TMJ Disorders: What You Need to Know

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TMJ Pain Can Cause Great Discomfort

Typically, when we think about going to the dentist, we think about dental cleanings, braces, root canals, and anything else that has to do with our teeth and gums. And rightfully so. However, your dentist can help you in countless other ways. Your oral health involves a lot more than just your teeth and your gums. One vital part of your mouth is your jaw, particularly your temporomandibular joints (TMJ).

While you might not even think about these joints (much less even know what they are), you use them every single day. These joints are responsible for various functions in your mouth, from helping your talk to chewing food. However, as with all things, issues can arise in these joints that cause pain and discomfort.

TMJ disorders (also referred to as TMD) can cause pain in your jaw joints and muscles, reducing the overall range of motion in your jaw. TMJ disorders can cause a lot of pain and affect your quality of life. These disorders are complicated. After all, healthcare experts don’t know what causes TMD. Fortunately, TMJ pain is not permanent, and you can relieve it with ease.

At Cosmetic & Family Dentistry of Las Colinas, our team of dental experts understands how complex your mouth can be. Many factors can cause jaw pain, which is why it pays to have the help of a trusted dentist. If you are experiencing jaw pain, contact our clinic today to schedule an appointment.

What are the Temporomandibular Joints (TMJ)?

Your temporomandibular joints (TMJ) act as a hinge for your jaw. They connect your jaw to the temporal bones in your skull, which are right in front of each ear. There is a joint on each side of your head. These joints are what allow your jaw to open and close and move side to side. They allow you to speak, chew, swallow, and more. If there are any issues with these joints, you could experience many problems.

Not only would you experience some pain and discomfort, but you would struggle to open your mouth completely. Often, the cause of these issues is TMJ disorders (referred to as TMD).

TMJ Disorders (TMD)

TMJ disorders cause pain in the joints and muscles in your jaw, which impacts the movement of your jaw. Along with pain and discomfort, these disorders significantly reduce your jaw’s range of motion. Naturally, that means you’ll struggle to open and close your mouth. While it might only seem like a minor inconvenience, it can have drastic effects.

If you can’t open our mouth, you’ll have issues speaking, chewing, swallowing, breathing, and keeping your teeth clean. TMJ disorders can affect either one or both sides of your face. That is why it is vital to visit your dentist for an accurate diagnosis to prevent the development of further problems.

Symptoms of TMD

Each case of TMD differs. The symptoms can range from mild discomfort to severe pain. For some, this pain is temporary, lasting only a few weeks. For others, it can last for several months or even years. Because of the issues they present, you must take care of these disorders early to prevent any further damage.

Here are some key symptoms to keep an eye out for to catch TMD early:

  • Jaw pain or tenderness
  • Pain while chewing, talking, yawning, or swallowing
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Difficulty opening and closing your mouth
  • Aching facial pain
  • Tense or tight jaw muscles
  • Lockjaw
  • Pain in one or both temporomandibular joints
  • Aching pain in one or both of your ears
  • Clicking or popping sounds in your jaw whenever you open or close your mouth
  • Headaches/migraines
  • Toothaches
  • Teeth grinding/clenching 

Unfortunately, the exact cause of TMD is unknown. Many healthcare experts don’t know why TMJ disorders occur. There are several factors that could increase your jaw pain or increase your risk of developing TMD, such as:

  • Genetics
  • Injuries or trauma to the jaw
  • Arthritis
  • Stress
  • Teeth grinding/clinching
  • Misaligned bite
  • Discs in the joints wear down or are misaligned
  • Dislocation
  • Tense facial muscles

As you can see, a host of factors can lead to or increase your risk of developing a TMJ disorder. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of these disorders. However, they are often not long-lasting and will go away with simple treatment.

Diagnosing and Treating TMJ Disorders

Once you have recognized these symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your dentist. Here, they will use various tests to diagnose your condition. They will review your medical and dental history. They feel and examine your jaw as you open and close your mouth, observing your range of motion and listening for any clicks and pops.

Additionally, they will use dental exams and X-rays to identify any injuries or damage. A CT scan or an MRI might be used to get a more detailed look at the bones and disks in your jaw, as well as observing the muscles and soft tissue surrounding these joints.

Depending on how progressed your TMD is, your dentist might suggest many treatment options, many of which you can do on your own. Some treatment options include:

  • Medications
    • Anti-inflammatory, over-the-counter pain medication (such as Ibuprofen)
    • Muscle relaxants
    • Anti-anxiety drugs
  • Heat/cold therapy
  • Eating soft foods
  • Avoiding chewing gums or other bad habits
  • Practicing relaxation techniques (meditation, deep breathing, yoga, etc.)
  • Avoiding teeth grinding/clenching
  • Exercises to strengthen jaw muscles

However, if these home remedies don’t relieve your TMJ pain, then your dentist might suggest more extensive treatment.

  • Oral splints/mouth guards (often worn during sleep to prevent grinding and clinching)
  • Trigger point injections (temporarily relieve pain and relax muscles and joints)
  • Surgery (in extreme cases)

If no other method provides relief, then your dentist might suggest surgery as a last resort.

Contact Cosmetic & Family Dentistry of Las Colinas

TMJ disorders can be painful and affect your overall quality of life. Eating, talking, and cleaning your teeth become difficult. These cases can range from mild to severe. Fortunately, these conditions are not permanent and can improve with simple and easy treatments.

The team at Cosmetic & Family Dentistry of Las Colinas possesses the skills, experience, and tools to diagnose your TMD accurately. We will help you create an effective treatment plan to help you find relief. If you are experiencing jaw pain, give our office a call today to schedule an appointment.