By: Dr. Heather Hradek
As the particularly stressful holiday season is almost past us, you might be noticing some additional aches and pains. Do you have pain in or around your jaw joint? Does your jaw occasionally get locked when opening or closing? Do you have frequent headaches, migraines, or neck pain? If so, mention it to us as you may have temporomandibular disorder (TMD).
Your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the hinge joint by your ear that allows you to open and close your mouth as well as slide your jaw to each side or back and forth. It’s a complex system of muscles, connective tissue, a tissue disc, and the bony joint itself, which unfortunately can develop a number of problems.
Some possible causes of TMD include:
- Diseases that affect the muscles or joints, like rheumatoid or osteoarthritis
- Misalignment of the teeth
- Damage to the jaw joint or connective tissues, such as trauma or car accident
- Habitual movements of the teeth and jaws, like grinding or clenching related to stress or medications
Sometimes sinus infections or dental infections can cause pain in your jaw area, so we want to rule out any acute signs of infection prior to diagnosing TMD as the primary source of your pain.
Signs and symptoms of TMD can include:
- Pain in or around the ear
- Pain when chewing
- Sore, achy jaw muscles
- Painful clicking or popping when opening or closing the mouth
- Difficulty opening or closing mouth or gets ‘stuck’ or locked open or closed
- Pain when opening mouth wide
- Headaches, facial, or neck pain
- Ringing in ears
One large study also found that people with TMD are more likely to report chronic symptoms such as runny nose, fatigue, or dizziness. Anxiety and depression have also been associated with TMD.
If we suspect TMD, we will check your jaw joint for noises and clicking as well as palpate jaw muscles for tenderness. We will evaluate your range of opening as well as talk about when you notice the symptoms.
Because of its complexity of systems, TMD is difficult to isolate the exact cause, so treatment often focuses on palliative care or relieving the symptoms. If you are experiencing TMD, here are some things that may help:
- Eat softer foods, avoiding chewy or hard foods
- Limit exaggerated jaw movements (wide opening)
- Avoid chewing gum, ice, or biting down on anything hard
- Apply moist, warm compress with a wet wash cloth heated in microwave
Patients also find that symptoms may come and go or may bother you all the time, but are often exacerbated by stressful times.
If you pain is still a problem, we may recommend some of the following:
- Exercises to strengthen your jaw muscles
- Anti-inflammatory medications such as Ibuprofen at the 600-800mg range every 6 hours
- A night guard to decrease clenching or grinding as well as protect your teeth from damage while sleeping
- A Physical Therapist consultation
- Massage Therapy
Depending on the extent and/or complexity of your issues, we may refer you to a specialist who has limited their practice to focusing on TMD and sleep issues who may be able to provide more extensive treatment options.
Chesterton Family Dental is the general dentistry office of Dr. Mystie Pieters, Dr. Heather Hradek, and Dr. Robert Pieters located in Chesterton, Indiana providing dental care for the whole family!