The temporomandibular joint connects your jawbone to your skull on each side, acting similarly to a sliding hinge. When a patient has a TMJ disorder, it can cause severe pain in their jaw joint, as well as in the muscles that control the jaw’s movement. That being said, TMJ is often hard to diagnose. TMJ symptoms are not clear cut and may be attributed to other problems, such as genetics, jaw injury, or arthritis. People who experience jaw pain also often grind their teeth or clench their jaw, though not all of those who habitually grind or clench develop TMJ disorders. Most frequently, discomfort and pain connected to TMJ are temporary and patients can find relief with nonsurgical treatments.
Understanding TMJ Symptoms
The most common TMJ symptoms include:
- Pain or tenderness in your jaw, one or both of the temporomandibular joints
- Aching facial pain
- Pain and difficulty while chewing
- Headaches that are often severe and recurrent. TMJ headaches commonly occur on one side of the head, and in areas around the eyes, cheeks, and temples. But they can also occur at the top or the base of the skull.
- Tooth pain that cannot be traced to decay, nerve damage, or other causes.
- Earaches or “stuffed” sensations in the ears, sometimes accompanied by dizziness or ringing or rushing noises.
- Neck aches, shoulder aches or backaches, sometimes accompanied by numbness in the arms or hands.
- Tenderness and swelling near the temporomandibular joint or in the sides of the face.
- Clicking, popping or grating noises that occur when the jaw is opened or closed.
- An inability to freely open the mouth, either because of pain or because something seems to “lock the jaw at a certain point.
Causes of TMJ
In addition to recognizing symptoms, it is important to know why TMJ disorders occur. As the temporomandibular joint combines a hinge action with sliding motions, parts of the bones that come into contact with the joint are covered with cartilage and separated by a small shock-absorbing disk. Normally, this movement is smooth and uninhibited. However, causes of painful TMJ include:
- The disk moves out of its proper alignment
- The disk erodes
- The joint is damaged
- The cartilage is damaged
These causes usually occur due to the following risk factors:
- Arthritis, such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis
- Forceful impact and injury to the jaw
- Chronic teeth grinding or jaw clenching
- Some connective tissue disorders that may affect the temporomandibular joint
When to Call the Dentist
Be sure to contact our office if you are experiencing constant tenderness and pain in your jaw and surrounding areas, or if you are unable to open or close your jaw fully. During your consultation you can expect an examination that includes:
- Learning your symptoms and history
- Listening to and feeling your jaw when you open and close your mouth
- Observing your jaw’s range of motion
- Pressing on areas around your jaw to determine points of discomfort
- Dental X-rays
Widely known for his expertise on TMJ disorders, Dr. Kaplan will discuss the possible causes of your condition as well as treatments for relief.