Temporomandibular Joint disorder—TMJ—often disguises the source of the pain it inflicts. Although it originates in the jaw joint, sometimes the pain appears to emerge from an entirely different part of the head.
Many people living with TMJ don’t know what’s behind their suffering. Their teeth themselves feel fine. So they suspect the flu, an allergy, or something psychosomatic. Something temporary.
TMJ is not temporary!
Symptoms range from mildly annoying discomfort to severe, debilitating pain in the face, head, neck, and teeth, plus earaches and spasms of the facial muscles.
When teeth don’t line up properly in the upper or lower jaws, the extra muscular stress causes muscle and jaw pain. This pain radiates upward to the head and downward to the neck and shoulders. Left untreated, parts of the jaw joint may begin to collapse and degrade, producing more inflammatory—sharper and more focused—pain.
What causes malocclusion?
Malocclusion occurs when the peaks and valleys of your upper teeth fail to fit precisely into those of your lower teeth. When this misalignment happens tooth positions can shift. The result is eroded teeth, stress on your jaw joint, and muscle tension.
Good vs. Bad
A good bite meshes your teeth like the gears in fine machinery. But a bad bite has many ramifications including severe headaches and muscle spasms.
Most people with malocclusion get through their lives just fine. Adult men with teeth that are worn down by excessive grinding often say they haven’t felt a thing.
The same degree of malocclusion in women more often produces pain. In fact, women can be five times as likely as men to suffer from TMJ. Blame it on hormones that make women feel things differently.
Look for the clues
Male or female, your first clue to what’s ailing you might be the pops and clicks your jaw joints make when you open your mouth to eat or yawn. Signs of possible TMJ are chronic headaches, difficulty opening your mouth or chewing certain kinds of food, or a ringing or popping sound in one or both ears. If you have a sore jaw or unexplained pain in your head or neck, or if you have trouble turning your head from side to side—your problem could be TMJ. Or it could be something else. Come in to have it evaluated.
What can be done?
We might suggest placing a plastic splint over your teeth to fool your body into thinking your bite is perfect. If the splint relieves the pain, we might correct the tooth fit by selectively grinding the tooth surfaces, or reshaping them by using a crown or bridge.
In other cases, we may recommend orthodontic treatment to move teeth into the proper position.
In extreme cases, oral surgery of the jaws might be needed to realign the bones prior to making the teeth fit.
TMJ and those head and neck pains may not disappear in a flash. But with careful evaluation and testing, your results will range from distinct improvement to permanent relief from pain.
You may suffer from TMJ disorder if you have:
- Popping and clicking sounds coming from your jaw joints when you open your mouth
- chronic headaches
- difficulty opening your mouth
- trouble chewing certain kinds of foods
- a ringing or popping sound in your ears
- a sore jaw or unexplained pain in your head or neck
- trouble turning your head from side to side.