Blog / Dental Health

Here’s What You Need To Know About Jaw Pain

March 24, 2015

Older man holding jaw with his hand

If you have jaw pain that interferes with chewing, swallowing, speaking, or even breathing, you are not alone. About 12 percent of Americans have some type of TMJ, or temporomandibular joint pain. The TMJ and the surrounding muscles act in a complicated balance. When something in that balance goes wrong, it can be both painful and embarrassing. It can also interfere with your oral health.

Luckily, many joint disorders, or TMD, are temporary and can be treated. Let’s look at some of the causes of jaw pain from TMD and how TMJ treatment works.

How Does The Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Work?

The temporomandibular joint is where the lower jawbone meets your skull, near your temple. Those temple or temporal bones and muscles connect to the jawbone, or mandible, at the TMJ. A soft disc works like a shock absorber between the two bones as you chew and speak. It is one of the most complicated joints in your body. It can move in three dimensions with very fine control.

What Causes Pain In The Jaw?

Anything that causes other joints to hurt can also cause TMJ pain. Arthritis and fibromyalgia can sometimes show up as jaw pain. Usually, TMD pain is caused by stress on the physical structures of the joint and the nearby muscles.

Some of the stresses on the jaw joint and triggers for pain include:
− Incorrect bite
− Pressure from orthodontic work, braces or retainers
− Teeth grinding
− Poor posture, especially holding your neck and head wrong while typing or reading
− Emotional stress that makes your facial muscles tense
− Poor diet
− Injuries from falls or sports

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of TMD And TMJ Pain?

Symptoms of TMJ pain can overlap with other problems like toothache, ear infection and headaches. TMJ pain affects women slightly more often than men. It usually happens between ages 20 and 40.

Pain or tenderness in front of your ears is the main symptom. It is especially painful when you eat, speak or do anything else that involves opening and closing your mouth. Patients often tell us they hear clicking or popping as they move their mouth. Headaches and neck pain can also happen when the other muscles in the head try to compensate for the jaw muscles. Sometimes it will be actually hard to close or open your mouth at all.

TMD and TMJ pain can seriously impact your life. Pain while chewing crunchy foods – especially vegetables – can mean changing your diet to unhealthy food choices. Leaving TMD untreated can even cause serious chronic headaches or chronic jaw pain. People with chronic jaw pain make less saliva, causing additional speaking and eating problems as well as tooth or gum issues.

How Can My Dentist Treat Or Manage My Jaw Pain?

Dr. Petry and Dr. Walton can prescribe medication to relieve temporary TMJ pain. Muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory medicines are the first line of defense when home treatments like ice, moist heat and rest are not enough.

A custom bite guard or stabilization splint is often used to treat jaw pain from teeth grinding or from a misaligned bite. Physical therapy treatments, like ultrasound therapy and corticosteroid injections, can also help the muscles around the jaw joint relax and heal.

If the more conservative treatments fail, surgery is sometimes – but very rarely – used. Some experts and studies say TMJ reconstruction surgery can leave more issues than it solves.

Luckily, most people see their jaw pain go away with conservative treatment. Dr. Petry and Dr. Walton can help you make sure your jaw pain is treated as quickly as possible, so you can get back to your daily activities, favorite healthy foods and great overall oral health!