Over 10 million American adults suffer from chronic facial pain, such as jaw pain, headaches or earaches. The condition is more common on women in their childbearing years. The source of these aches and pains may be related to one or both of the temporomandibular (TM) joints. Located on each side of the head, these joints work together, with a complex system of muscles, ligaments, discs and bones, to make different movements for chewing and speaking.
What are the signs and symptoms of TMJ?
A variety of symptoms may be linked to TMJ disorders. Pain, particularly in the chewing muscles and/or jaw joint, is the most common symptom. Other likely symptoms include:
- Radiating pain in the face, jaw, or neck,
- Jaw muscle stiffness,
- Limited movement or locking of the jaw,
- Painfull clicking, popping or grating in the jaw joint when opening or clising the mouth,
- A change in the way the upper and lower teeth fit together.
4 Main causes of TMJ
- Misaligned bite (problem with the way teeth fit together)
- Jaw dislocation or injury
Stress and TMJ
Stress is thought to be a factor in TMJ. Even strenuous physical tasks, such as lifting a heavy object or stressful situations, can aggravate TMJ by causing overuse of jaw muscles, specifically clenching or grinding teeth.
How is TMJ diagnosed?
Diagnosis is an important step before treatment. At present, there is no widely accepted, standard test to correctly identify TMJ. Other dental conditions, such as toothache or a sinus problem, can cause similar symptoms. Behavioral, psychological and physical factors may also combine to cause TMJ.
Other dental conditions, such as a toothache or sinus problems, can cause similar symptoms. Scientists are also exploring how behavioral, psychological and physical factors may combine to cause TMD.
In about 90% of cases, your description of symptoms, combined with a simple physical examination of face and jaw by your dentist, provides useful information for diagnosing these disorders, according to the Delta Dental Plans Association.
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, so it is important to keep your dental office record up-to-date.
If you think you have TMJ we have a quiz for you.
Keep in mind that for most people, discomfort from TMJ will eventually go away on its own. Simple self-care practices, such as exercising to reduce teeth-clenching caused by stress, can be effective in easing TMJ symptoms.
You can visit your dentist for conservative TMJ treatment. Avoid treatments that cause permanent changes in the bite or jaw. If irreversible treatments are recommended, get a reliable second opinion.