TMJ Disorders and Other Jaw Pains


Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction refers to afflictions in the muscles that move the jaw and the joints which connect the mandible with the skull (i.e., temporomandibular joints). This syndrome is characterized by pain, then by limited mandibular clicking and movement, popping or grating noises coming from the temporomandibular joints when the jaw moves. Other symptoms include upper shoulder pain, headaches, neck aches, toothaches, dizziness, earaches, hearing problems, and ringing in the ears. Those afflicted often notice pain along with the other symptoms while talking, yawning or chewing, and sometimes even while the jaw is rested. Although not life-threatening and usually not a serious condition, the symptoms can impact significantly on one’s life quality as it can become difficult to manage.

While the actual cause of the TMJ dysfunction syndrome is not yet clear, a lot of dentists believe that the symptoms result from problems with jaw muscles or with the joint’s parts. Temporomandibular joint, traumatic injury to the jaw or muscles of the head and neck; bruxism or the involuntary grinding or clenching the teeth; the habitual reaction to stress of tightening facial and jaw muscles or the teeth’s clenching; the soft cushion or disc’s dislocation between the ball and socket; and rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis in the temporomandibular joint have all been known to sometimes lead to the TMJ dysfunction syndrome.

In determining whether an individual has the TMJ syndrome, a dental professional typically asks the patient to take a “clench test” to gauge the intensity of the pain. Those individuals who experience discomfort in any or all teeth and the jaw when they bite down are likely to be diagnosed with the syndrome. However, since other cases can result to the same symptoms to TMD, for instance sinusitis or arthritis, the dentist will review your history and may conduct further physical examination before proceeding further. In most cases, the dental professional will assess your temporomandibular joints for tenderness or pain, clicking, popping, or grating sounds when the jaw moves; check for limited motion or locking of the jaw when opening or closing the mouth; and take a look at the facial and bite muscle function. Also, sometimes X-rays or other imaging tests like computer tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may even need to be taken.

Treatments for TMJ syndrome would depend on the results of the diagnosis and can go from the littlest self-care practices and simple treatments to surgery and injections. In the more extreme cases, your dentist may decide it would be in your best interest to refer you to an oral surgeon for further care and treatment. It may be that you may need to undergo surgery for joint replacement, disc repositioning or other surgical procedure. In the majority of instances though, your dentist will tell you that your TMJ condition will likely improve by taking certain prescription medication and by making certain changes in your habitual jaw and neck movements like how you chew your food and how you hold your head at work. Your dentist may also recommend that you get fitted with oral appliances like night guards and splints to avoid coming together of the upper and lower teeth, also lessening the effects of clenching or grinding the teeth while you sleep. These plastic mouthpieces will also fix the bite by realigning the teeth in their most appropriate and least traumatic position. It may also happen that the dentist will suggest that you undergo corrective dental treatments like using bridges or braces or replacing missing teeth to balance the biting surfaces or to correct a bite problem which may have been responsible for your particular TMJ condition.

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