What Causes TMJ Pain?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects your jawbone to your skull on both sides, in front of your ears. Think of it as a hinge, allowing you to open and close your mouth and move it from side to side. When your TMJ is impaired, it can cause temporomandibular disorder. This disorder is commonly (but mistakenly) referred to as simply TMJ.

Mechanical Issues Linked to TMJ Pain

TMJ disorder occurs when the muscles, joints, or tissues surrounding the TMJ become inflamed, damaged, or overworked. Dysfunction can also be the result of a mechanical problem linked to one or more of the components that make the TMJ function, such as:

Disk. A small, shock-absorbing disk separates your jawbone from your skull. If this disk erodes or moves out of alignment, it could cause pain.

Joint. If the joint itself is somehow damaged, it could be the source of pain.

Cartilage. Arthritis in the cartilage found in joint components could cause pain.

Categories of TMJ Disorder

TMJ disorders generally fall under one of these three broad categories:

Internal joint derangement. Displacement of the TMJ disk, a dislocated jaw, or lower back injury can lead to TMJ disorders.

Degenerative joint disease. Degeneration or inflammation can happen from the aging of the joint from rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or a perforated TMJ disk.

Myofascial pain disorder. Daytime bruxism or teeth grinding, abnormal muscular function, or nocturnal grinding may cause TMJ disorder and cause pain in the muscles surrounding the jaw joint.

What Causes TMJ Disorder?

Many different things can impair the TMJ, including:

  • Physical injury; heavy blow or whiplash
  • Arthritis in the joint
  • Grinding or clenching your teeth; bruxism
  • Bite problems; overbite, underbite, crowding, spacing
  • Jaw and bite misalignment; malocclusion
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Infections
  • Poor posture, poor sleep positions
  • Stress
  • Hormonal, genetic, or environmental factors
  • Anxiety or stress

How Is TMJ Disorder Diagnosed?                                                                        

If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above, it is a good idea to see an oral surgeon, who will take a complete medical history. Your surgeon will also perform range of motion tests and listen to how your jaw sounds. They will feel around the TMJ to locate painful areas and will also take X-rays and perform bite analyses.

Once a TMJ disorder is diagnosed, your surgeon will recommend pain relief and treatment solutions.

How Is TMJ Disorder Treated?

Your oral surgeon will recommend solutions to help treat your TMJ disorder based on the cause and severity of the condition. Solutions include:

Nightguards. Custom nightguards are often recommended for people whose TMJ is brought on by continuous teeth grinding while awake or asleep. This condition is also called bruxism and can lead to TMJ disorders.

Custom orthotics. A TMJ orthotic appliance is an acrylic designed to correct the position of the lower jaw. Also called a bite splint, it helps relax and balance the jaw joints and muscles, leading to relief from TMJ pain and disorders. 

Lifestyle changes. Sometimes changes to how a person eats, sleeps, manages stress, and exercises their body can help reduce TMJ disorder symptoms. Home therapies include eating soft foods, using ice and heat packs, and exercising the jaw and facial muscles.

Medications and therapies. Muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and steroids are three of the most common classes of medications used to help manage the effects of TMJ disorders. They are not long-term solutions. Physical therapy and chiropractic care may also help treat jaw misalignment.

Surgery. Surgery is sometimes the only option for TMJ disorders. It may be recommended if the patient experiences:

  • Severe joint locking/inability to fully open or close the mouth
  • Continuous facial pain and TMJ dysfunction after six months of nonsurgical therapies
  • Intense pain that medications do not help
  • Extreme difficulty eating and drinking because of jaw immobility
  • TMJ injuries from trauma, such as a car accident
  • TMJ destruction due to diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or tumors
  • Facial deformities from a genetic or congenital disability

South Jersey Oral Surgeons at Lanzi Burke Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons Can Treat TMJ Pain and Problems

TMJ disorders are painful and a massive disruption to everyday life. There are solutions to help manage and correct the problem. Contact the South Jersey oral surgeons at Lanzi Burke Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons to consult on your situation. Our team is experienced in a variety of oral surgical procedures. Call us today at 856-582-4222 or contact us online to make an appointment or schedule a consultation. Our offices are located in Washington Township, Haddonfield, and Woolwich Township, New Jersey, and we are dedicated to helping patients throughout South Jersey.

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