Common Causes of Jaw Pain and How to Treat TMJ

woman holding her face from jaw pain

Today, you’re going to lear about jaw pain causes such TMJ disorder and how to treat TMJ.

 Your temporomandibular joint — also called your “TMJ” or jaw joint — moves hundreds of times a day. In fact, it’s one of the most active joints in your body. You rely on it for chewing, swallowing, speaking, and laughing. So, if you’re someone who suddenly exhibits signs of jaw popping and clicking or TMJ disorder, it can be debilitating.

TMJ Disorder (TMD/TMJD)

Fortunately, clinical TMJ disorder (TMD) is fairly uncommon. Even though it’s normal for most of us to occasionally experience jaw pain or symptoms of jaw popping and clicking, actual TMD isn’t an everyday condition.

Clinical TMJ disorder/TMD restricts the movement of your mouth, leading to issues like:

  • Restricted range of motion
  • Debilitating jaw pain
  • Internal damage to the joint
  • Locked joints
  • Severe, chronic headaches

Jaw Popping and Clicking

One of the most common symptoms to experience with your TMJ is jaw popping and clicking as you open and close your mouth. Sometimes “crepitation” or a grinding noise also accompanies it. Try not to force your jaw to pop on command. The noise is typically due to a slipping or misplaced disc/cartilage inside of your joint, where the mandible (lower jaw) meets the base of your skull.

Trauma or Injury

If you’ve been in an automobile accident, sports-related injury, or ever suffered a blow to your mouth and jaw, it’s normal to experience some form of jaw pain. Since the soft tissues, muscles, and ligaments around your joint can become strained or bruised, they need plenty of time to heal. But the fact that you’re constantly using your mouth to eat and talk could lead to a longer recovery time.

Overuse and Jaw Pain

Constant clenching and grinding (bruxism) can cause moderate to severe pain, mimicking TMJ disorder. Additionally, if you’re someone who constantly chews gum or is snacking on hard-textured foods, it can lead to joint strain. Think of it like how your knees would feel if you ran several miles a day, without ever resting. They would get overused and strained. The same can happen if your TMJ is constantly tensing up and grinding your teeth together firmly.

Sleeping Disorders

If you have obstructive sleep apnea or another type of sleeping disorder, you might also be experiencing jaw pain, popping, or clicking. That’s because people tend to tightly clench their teeth while they sleep when their brain is deprived of oxygen.  Ruling out a sleeping disorder may be beneficial.

Stress

All of us experience stress from time to time. But if we have a stressful home or professional life, it can gradually take a toll on us physically. Your jaw muscles and teeth maybe some of the first areas to see the impact. Issues like worn enamel and jaw pain are fairly common. It’s mostly due to our bodies tensing up when we feel stressed out.

Types of TMJ Treatment

Depending on the underlying cause of your jaw pain, the best TMJ treatment is usually one of the following:

Bite Splints — People with clenching and grinding habits tend to do well when they wear a bite splint or mouthguard. The extra cushion between their teeth prevents your jaws from fully engaging, reducing the source of your discomfort. If you think you have TMJ disorder, a custom mouthguard is usually one of the best initial forms of TMJ treatment to consider.

Try not to use an over-the-counter mouthguard, as the bulkier and looser fit might actually be more irritating. For better protection, get an impression made with our Princeton dentist to have one professionally fitted to your teeth.

Massage — Sore muscles respond well to massage. Use your fingers to gently press and rub around your TMJ, temples, across either side of your jaw, and down your neck. Or if you prefer, consider booking a session with a massage therapist!

Rest — Put away those hard, crunchy foods for a while. Shift to a soft diet for a couple of weeks (at least) to give your jaw a break. If you’re still experiencing jaw popping and clicking or pain after a few weeks, let our Princeton dentist know. In the meantime, avoid that stick of chewing gum and start steaming your veggies instead of eating them while they’re crispy. Gradually add firmer textures back into your diet as pain improves, but don’t overdo it.

Warm Compresses — Warm, moist heat is great for sore joints and muscles. Apply it to the side of your face for up to 20 minutes, alternating sides if needed.

Medication — Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen (Motrin) work well for jaw pain. Always follow the instructions on the label. In more serious cases of TMJ disorder, a prescription muscle relaxer might be recommended.

Physical Therapy — There are special exercises and stretches that you can do to strengthen your jaws and manage discomfort that’s related to TMJ disorder. You can find them online or by working directly with a physical therapist.

Injectables — Popular products like Botox have been shown to work successfully in TMJ treatment related to jaw pain. Since such cosmetic injectables are natural muscle relaxers, they ease the tension around your joint and also minimize the frequency or duration of headaches. Depending on the type that’s used and how often it’s administered, you might see results for up to six months or more.

Proper Mouth Position — When your teeth aren’t engaged, your lips should be together, but your teeth shouldn’t be touching. A proper resting position reduces jaw pain due to muscle contraction. It may take a bit of practice to “program” your body to rest the proper way.

Why Am I Having Jaw Pain?

At Canal Vista Family Dental, we’re concerned about healthy orofacial function from your jaws and soft tissues to your teeth and gums. If you’re experiencing jaw pain or frequent popping and clicking, we encourage you to schedule an exam with Dr. Bestandji. We’ll thoroughly evaluate your TMJ function to determine the best solution for your discomfort.

Call us today!

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