Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder is a broad term applied to various conditions that cause pain and dysfunction in the jaw and surrounding muscles. TMJ disorder is a progressive disease that, without intervention, often increases in severity. TMJ pain can become chronic, impacting a patient’s physical and emotional well-being.
TMJ disorders can involve a range of symptoms, the severity and frequency of which vary widely. Most TMJ discomfort is temporary and mild, but when the pain becomes severe, debilitating, or chronic, it requires treatment.
• Pain or tenderness in the jaw joint area or in front of the ear on one or both sides of the face
• Difficulty or discomfort when opening
or closing the mouth
Clicking, popping, or grating sounds during jaw movement
• Jaw becomes “locked” in an open or closed position
• Difficulty chewing or biting, changes in bite, or feeling that teeth don’t fit together correctly
• Swelling or tenderness around the jaw joint
• Frequent headaches, especially tension headaches
• Pain that radiates to the face, temples, cheeks, or around the ears
• Neck, shoulder, or back pain
• Ear-related symptoms, such as earaches, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), or decreased hearing
• Limited jaw movement
• Sleep disturbances
• Dental issues, such as tooth chipping
• Nutritional deficiencies due to difficulties chewing and biting
• Joint degradation
• Increased inflammation
Why a person develops a TMJ disorder is often unclear, but likely influenced by several related factors. TMJ disorders are generally categorized as a form of either inflammatory joint disease (arthritis), myofascial pain (muscle tension), or internal derangement (articular disc displacement or dysfunction).
Contributing factors can include:
- Injury to the jaw
- Teeth grinding and jaw clenching (bruxism)
- Stress and emotional factors
Diagnosing the cause of TMJ can be difficult because people can experience any of a number of types of TMJ and symptoms may be caused by or overlap with other orofacial pain disorders. Symptoms of each disorder can exacerbate the other.
There is no one definitive test to diagnose TMJ and the cause of jaw pain. A thorough physical examination includes evaluating the patient’s jaw movement, bite alignment, and muscle tenderness. Imaging tests, such as X-rays, MRI, or CT scans, may be used to assess the jaw joint and surrounding structures.
A comprehensive evaluation is essential, with providers looking at the full range of signs and symptoms to make an accurate diagnosis and develop a personalized treatment plan. Here’s how to prepare for your TMJ appointment.
In mild cases of TMJ disorder, self-care practices and lifestyle modifications may be sufficient to manage symptoms. If pain is severe or persists for over a month, it is important to seek treatment.
Some TMJ patients may try multiple specialists as they pursue pain relief, resulting in fragmented treatment approaches that do not bring relief. A coordinated approach is essential for identifying treatments that can make a difference.
Each TMJ case is unique, and the treatment plan should be tailored to a patient’s specific causes and symptoms. The goal is to alleviate pain, regain normal jaw function, and improve quality of life.
Having a professional evaluation and expert advice is crucial for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment of your TMJ disorder. Early intervention and proper management can often lead to better outcomes in pain relief.
Our providers are all board-certified experts in orofacial pain syndromes, including TMJ disorders. Therapies we offer include medication management, oral appliances, and therapeutic injections.