Jaw Pain

TMJ (temporomandibular joint) Disorder

TMJ is the acronym for temporomandibular joint; the joint that connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the skull. The joint allows the jaw to function for tasks such as speaking and chewing. If the muscles of the jaw, or the joint itself, is causing pain, you may be suffering from temporomandibular disorder or TMD. This condition is often stress induced, resulting from clenching of the jaw muscles or grinding of the teeth.

Symptoms of TMD Include:

  • Pain when opening or closing your mouth
  • Difficulty chewing
  • The jaw being stuck open or shut
  • Headaches or pain in or near the ear
  • Popping or clicking sounds when the jaw is moved

These symptoms are not pathognomonic, meaning that they only point to one condition, so only a medical professional can determine if your symptoms are due to TMD or another condition. Teeth grinding and clenching can not only affect the jaw, but can also be detrimental to the other structures of the mouth. Prolonged teeth grinding, referred to dentally as bruxism, results in wear of the enamel from the occlusal (chewing) surface of the teeth. There is a limited amount of enamel on teeth, and once the enamel has been worn away, there is no method of replacing it naturally. Once the enamel is worn through, the underlying core of the tooth is exposed, which is composed of a material known as dentin. Dentin is a bone-like material that is softer than enamel and is more susceptible to decay, wear, and erosion. Sensitivity to hot and cold is also increased as a result of loss of the enamel and dentin due to grinding.

If you suspect that you are grinding or clenching your teeth, or are suffering from the symptoms of TMD, we suggest that you come in for an exam and consultation. We can help diagnose the cause of your symptoms and get you on the path to relief. If you are currently suffering, the use of over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen and a hot/cold compress can help relieve the discomfort of symptoms and help reduce some of the underlying inflammation that causes these symptoms.

The use of a night guard can help prevent or lessen the effects of night time teeth grinding while you sleep. Often this simple appliance provides significant relief and helps to protect the joint and teeth, however, in very severe cases, surgery on the joint may be required. If surgery is required, we can help you find a skilled oral surgeon in your area to perform treatment. Surgery is always the last course of action and we have found that,for most patients, the combined use of a dental appliance and behavioral modifications to control stress and the use of jaw muscles will provide significant relief of symptoms.