If you’ve been having frequent jaw pain, ear issues, headaches, muscle aches, or facial pressure, these symptoms could indicate a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). This condition affects the mandibular joint, which connects your jaw to your skull. For context, everybody has a pair of temporomandibular joints (TMJ), on either side of their jaw. These joints facilitate the daily utilization of your mouth.
If the joints are diseased or impacted by trauma, structural abnormalities, etc., the results are headaches, jaw pain, and difficulty opening or closing the mouth. You may also experience popping sounds and limited jaw movement that impacts everyday oral activities. Proper diagnosis and treatment are necessary to alleviate these symptoms and restore normal jaw function. Keep reading as we discuss ten facts about the TMJ disorder you should know, including associated symptoms, possible causes, diagnosis, and available treatment options.
What is Temporomandibular Joint Disorder?
TMJ disorders affect the joints that connect the jawbone (mandible) to the skull on each side of the face. These joints allow for the movement of the jaw, enabling actions such as chewing, speaking, and yawning. TMJ disorder can have different causes, and symptoms/pain range from mild to severe.
The condition is more prevalent in women than men, a fact that may be attributed to hormonal factors, as fluctuating hormone levels during menstrual cycles and pregnancy can affect the jaw joint. This disorder is also observed in individuals between the ages of 35 and 44 due to increased stress levels, jaw overuse or trauma, and the cumulative effects of wear and tear on the joint over time.
Possible Causes and Symptoms of Temporomandibular Joint Disorder
TMD affects the temporomandibular joint, which connects the jawbone to the skull. While its exact causes are not always apparent, several factors, like jaw misalignment, teeth grinding or clenching, stress, arthritis, and jaw injury, can contribute to the development of this disorder. TMJ pain varies in intensity and frequency from person to person, but there are symptoms associated with the condition, including:
- Jaw pain: This is the most prevalent symptom of TMD. It can range from mild discomfort to severe pain and can be localized to the jaw joint or spread to the surrounding areas; for instance, the face, temples, or ears. The pain may be constant or intermittent and worsens with jaw movement, such as chewing or talking.
- Jaw clicking or popping: Many individuals with TMD experience clicking, popping, or grating sounds when they open or close their mouths. The displacement or misalignment of the temporomandibular joint causes these sounds. Clicking or popping may be accompanied by jaw pain or a sensation of the jaw joint getting stuck.
- Limited jaw movement: TMD can lead to difficulty or discomfort when fully opening or closing the mouth. Some sufferers may find that their jaw locks temporarily, either in an open or closed position. This locking can be painful and may require manual manipulation or relaxation techniques to unlock the jaw.
- Headaches: Pain can vary in intensity and location, but it is often felt as a dull ache in the temples or forehead. Individuals with TMD frequently report having tension headaches and migraines.
- Ear-related symptoms: TMD can cause several symptoms, including ear pain, a sensation of pressure in the ears, or tinnitus, which is a ringing, buzzing, or roaring sound in the ears. Some patients experience a spinning sensation known as vertigo, usually accompanied by a loss of balance. It can be related to the temporomandibular joint dysfunction affecting the inner ear.
- Facial muscle tension: People with TMD may have muscle tension or spasms in the facial muscles, particularly in the jaw area. It can contribute to jaw pain and limited jaw movement. Facial muscle tension can also lead to discomfort in other areas of the face, like the cheeks or temples.
Note, these symptoms can be confused with other conditions, it therefore helps to confer with a specialist for a proper diagnosis. Treatment options for TMD may include lifestyle changes, pain management techniques, physical therapy, and surgical interventions. TMJ pain can negatively impact a person’s quality of life, causing discomfort, pain, and limitations in simple daily activities such as eating.
When the aching is too intense, it can even hinder one’s ability to speak by causing discomfort and difficulty in moving the jaw, which is essential for articulating words clearly. If you suspect you have TMJ disorder, seek professional evaluation from your dentist and work together to create a care plan that will get you back to feeling your best. They’ll assess your symptoms, determine the underlying causes, and recommend appropriate treatment tailored to your needs.
10 Most Surprising Facts About TMJ Disorder You Shouldn’t Ignore
1. There is no one specific cause of TMJ pain.
As discussed, TMD does not stem from a single underlying cause but rather can result from a combination of factors. These factors include sources like head injuries, arthritis, and behavioral habits including teeth grinding or clenching. Identifying the cause of TMJ pain requires careful examination and consideration of the individual’s medical history and habits to determine the contributing factors and develop an appropriate treatment plan.
2. Stress and anxiety are common contributors to TMJ dysfunction.
These two are the body’s reaction to a threat and are well-known factors that contribute to TMJ dysfunction. When a person experiences high stress or anxiety levels, it can present in physical and psychological ways. A common manifestation is through teeth clenching or grinding, known as bruxism, which occurs unconsciously, especially during sleep or times of heightened stress. The excessive force exerted on the teeth and jaw during teeth grinding can lead to TMJ dysfunction.
Stress and anxiety also disrupt sleep patterns, which brings about poor sleep quality or sleep disorders. Bruxism, often associated with stress, can be more prevalent during sleep, and repeated teeth grinding can exacerbate TMJ disorder—this results in morning jaw pain and stiffness, further contributing to TMJ dysfunction.
3. Misaligned neck vertebrae can contribute to TMJ pain.
TMJ pain can develop as a response to chronic musculoskeletal disorders involving the spine. When the spine comes out of alignment, it can cause discomfort throughout the body, including the temporomandibular joint. It creates tension and imbalance in the surrounding muscles, affecting the alignment and function of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Also, if the neck vertebrae aren’t correctly aligned, it can lead to changes in stance and muscle imbalances that can affect the mechanics of the jaw, resulting in TMJ pain.
Neck misalignment also affects the nerves that innervate the jaw and surrounding structures, thus worsening TMJ pain. The nerves that supply the TMJ and the neck are interconnected, and when the neck vertebrae are misaligned, it can culminate in nerve irritation and referred pain in the jaw joint.
Addressing the misalignment in the neck vertebrae through chiropractic adjustments can help alleviate TMJ pain. Appropriate treatments will help restore proper alignment, reduce muscle tension, and relieve pressure on the nerves that contribute to TMJ discomfort.
4. TMJ pain can disrupt sleep patterns
The pain caused by temporomandibular joint disorders can be agonizing enough to interrupt an individual’s sleep and prevent them from entering into deep restorative sleep phases. TMJ disorders cause teeth grinding or clenching during sleep; the associated tensions exacerbate sleep disturbances and contribute to sleep deprivation. This results in the occurrence of insomnia, causing individuals to struggle with falling asleep or maintaining sleep, further leading to daytime fatigue or grogginess due to inadequate rest. Ongoing sleep disruptions evolve into chronic conditions that can negatively impact a person’s physical and mental health.
5. “TMJ” refers to the specific joint, not the disorder itself.
The term “TMJ” is sometimes mistaken to mean the disorder when in fact it should be used to refer to the temporomandibular joint that connects the jawbone to the skull. The disorder associated with this joint is referred to as TMD or temporomandibular disorder, which encompasses various conditions affecting the jaw joint and surrounding muscles.
6. Temporomandibular joint disorders can cause referred pain in other body parts.
TMJ disorders can lead to pain that is felt in different body regions/parts due to a phenomenon known as referred pain. Even though the issue originates in the jaw joint, TMD patients may also suffer from headaches, migraines, neck and shoulder soreness, earaches, or sinus pressure.
7. TMJ disorder affects the full range of motion during speech.
The disorder causes a dysfunction in the temporomandibular joint, resulting in impaired jaw movement and affecting the coordination of facial muscles involved in speech. These conditions manifest through symptoms like soreness, pain, and numbness, which limit the normal range of jaw and facial muscle movement required for effective verbal communication.
8. TMJ pain and bruxism are known to coexist.
Bruxism, or teeth grinding, is commonly associated with TMJ disorder. It’s unclear whether bruxism leads to TMJ or vice versa, but factors are involved in their development and subsequent progression. For instance, the repetitive grinding or clenching of teeth during bruxism strains the TMJ enough to cause pain and dysfunction.
TMJ disorder itself can also contribute to the development or exacerbation of bruxism. When the jaw joint is affected by misalignment, inflammation, or trauma, it can cause discomfort or pain. In response, the body involuntarily grinds or clenches the teeth as a subconscious attempt to alleviate the discomfort or achieve a more comfortable jaw position.
9. An anti-inflammatory diet can help manage TMJ pain.
Consuming an anti-inflammatory diet containing soft, easily chewable meals like eggs, fish, and pureed fruit can reduce discomfort in the temporomandibular joint. When combined with proper treatment, this dietary approach may provide much-needed relief.
10. Relief for TMJ pain is available.
Treatment for TMD sufferers can be anything from physical therapy and chiropractic care to orthodontic solutions and oral surgery. You can work toward finding a suitable solution by first identifying the root cause of your TMJ pain.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder Diagnosis and Treatment
TMJ is diagnosed through undergoing a medical history evaluation, physical examination, and diagnostic tests. The process involves assessing symptoms, examining the jaw’s range of motion, and checking for signs of inflammation or abnormalities in the jaw joint. X-rays, CT scans, or MRI tests may be performed to get a clearer view of the affected mandibular joint and surrounding structures.
Treatment for TMJ disorder depends on the severity of symptoms. Non-invasive approaches like physical therapy, wearing orthopedic devices, and lifestyle changes are often the first line of defense. Physical therapy for TMJ disorder combines manual therapy techniques and patient education to improve jaw mobility, alleviate pain, and address underlying muscle imbalances or joint dysfunction. These jaw exercises and stretching techniques, including heat or cold therapy, can help promote relaxation and proper jaw alignment.
Wearing orthopedic devices such as TMJ Relax®, specifically designed to treat TMJ disorders by supporting and stabilizing the jaw joint, can promote alignment and reduce stress on the mandibular joint. These devices help alleviate symptoms like jaw pain, muscle tension, and teeth grinding by repositioning the jaw for improved jaw function. Surgery may be considered in cases where physical therapy and orthopedic devices don’t provide relief. It’s, therefore, advisable to speak with a dental practitioner or oral surgeon to determine the most appropriate treatment for your case.
Speak to a TMJ Specialist near you
TMDs affect more than 10 million Americans, based on studies by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research; but relief is possible with the right TMJ treatment options. If you’re experiencing TMJ pain, TMJ Relax can help. The device developed by Dr. Charles Sutera, a renowned TMJ specialist in the U.S, has been instrumental in creating a non-invasive and reliable treatment of a common underlying cause of TMJ symptoms, which is a misaligned bite.
The FDA-cleared TMJ Relax orthopedic device is created for your jaw based on TMJ Relax’s unique RightBite protocol to help your jawbone rest in an optimized, pain-free position. The device has also been approved to mitigate TMJ symptoms like headaches, teeth grinding, and muscle tension. Regardless of age or how far your pain has progressed, TMJ Relax is a treatment approach worth considering.