Author: Mark S. Morris, D.D.S., Merrimack Smiles
Temporo-Mandibular Joint Disorder, or what people refer to as TMJ or TMD, is the most common cause of jaw pain. Our jaw joint is complex and connected to many areas of your head and neck, and therefore is susceptible to being the cause of pain and issues that are felt throughout this area. TMJ/TMD is most often associated with pain in a person’s jaw joint due to tight, overworked muscles, of the mouth. The jaw joints sit right in front of our ears and when put under tension from overworked muscles, does not function smoothly and can result in limitations in jaw movement, your jaw locking in either the open or closed position, the sound and feeling of clicking when opening and closing, and lastly pain felt in your jaw joint, neck, head, and even your ears.
What Causes TMJ/TMD?
TMJ/TMD is most closely associated with long-term and/or extreme clenching and/or grinding of your teeth. Clenching and grinding are often a result of stress we have in our lives and discrepancies with how our teeth fit together. Many of us will clench and grind throughout the night without even realizing we do it and some people also do it during the day. If you have ever woken up with a sore jaw or felt soreness in your jaw after an involved meeting or closely matched sporting event-you were clenching and/or grinding. If your teeth are worn, chipped, fractured and/or cracked, with or without temperature sensitivity you are clenching and/or grinding.
What can I do to treat my TMJ/TMD?
There are multiple ways your dentist can help treat your TMJ/TMD. The first step is to have your dentist evaluate you and your unique circumstances. As TMJ/TMD can be caused by multiple triggers and present differently in each person your dentist will be able to recommend the most effective treatment after a complete evaluation. Most often, a well-made occlusal guard designed and fabricated by your dentist will provide relief of your symptoms and often completely correct your TMJ/TMD and prevent further pain and damage. In some cases, we may also need to address significant bite issues through orthodontics, bite adjustments, physical therapy, and restorative dentistry.
In the meantime, I recommend that you treat your jaw as you would any other injured joint or muscle:
- Rest- eat soft food that does not require a lot of difficult chewing, and do not eat foods that require repetitive chewing, such as gum or gummy snacks.
- Anti-inflammatory medication- use of medication such as ibuprofen will help reduce your immune system’s response to the injured area and reduce any pain and inflammation of the muscle and TMJ.
- Utilize ice and/or heat- use ice if you have noticeable swelling and heat to alleviate the muscle pain or stiffness.
I see many patients with TMJ/TMD in my practice, the number of patients with TMJ/TMD continues to rise as our modern day lives have become increasingly more stressful. The pandemic is exception and because of the unknowns we were all faced with I have seen a rise in the number of patients with issues in the head, neck, and jaw regions. The good news is that you are not alone in your journey and if you do have pain in your head, neck, or jaw areas my team and I can help treat your trouble areas and keep it from happening again.