You may have heard of TMJ pain and you even have experienced it yourself, but you might not have known what it was at the time.
TMJ pain affects around 15% of the adult population, predominantly those aged between 20-40 years. It is twice as common in women than men.
In this post, you will learn what TMJ pain is, what causes TMJ pain, how it can be diagnosed, and the treatment options that are available for this condition.
What Is TMJ Pain?
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) describes the area where your skull and jawbone. In more anatomical terms, it is formed when the mandibular condyle inserts into the mandibular fossa of the temporal bone in the face.
It is a hinge joint that enables the two joining bones to slide over one another. This allows for you to open and close your mouth while talking, chewing, and yawn.
There is a range of TMJ disorders (often shortened to TMD), all of which are characterized by craniofacial pain (TMJ pain). This pain can be experienced around the TMJ and in the masticatory muscles.
TMD and TMJ pain is a surprisingly significant cause of work loss and absenteeism. The pain can become unbearable, which may affect your ability to concentrate and focus at work or school. It may also affect extracurricular activities.
What Are Symptoms of TMJ Pain?
Aside from the most obvious symptom of pain in the area of the TMJ joint and the surrounding muscles, there is a range of other symptoms that you might experience with TMD.
TMJ pain can lead to jaw pain, earache, headaches and migraines, and dysfunction in the jaw. You may also hear or feel a clicking or popping when you move your jaw.
What Causes TMJ Pain?
The bones of the TMJ are separated by cartilage, which enables the bones to smoothly slide over one another when you move your jaw. When these muscles become overworked or irritated, it can displace this small disc of cartilage.
There isn’t one specific cause of TMJ pain. A variety of factors can contribute to pain in the lower facial areas, including biological and environmental factors. Emotional and social factors also play a role in the development of TMJ.
For example, you may experience TMJ pain if you’ve had trauma or injury to one of the muscles in the TMJ. If you are feeling extremely stressed or anxious, you might find that you are grinding or clenching your teeth more often and this can lead to you getting TMJ pain.
TMJ pain can be categorized into three main types:
- The most common type of TMJ pain involves the muscles that open and close the jaw (the masseter, temporalis, medial pterygoid, and lateral pterygoid), and those that connect the neck and shoulder muscles (the trapezius muscles).
- The next category is TMJ pain that is secondary to a disorder of the joint itself or a displaced cartilage disc.
- The final category is where the TMJ pain is caused by a degenerative disorder of the joint, such as arthritis.
How is TMJ Pain Diagnosed?
Diagnostic tools can be used to diagnose TMJ pain.
- Dental x-rays to examine the teeth and jaw in more detail.
- Computer tomography (CT) scanning to provide detailed images of the jawbones.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to provide images of the cartilaginous disc of soft tissues surrounding the joint.
These types of imaging are helpful when malocclusion or joint abnormalities are suspected to be the cause of the TMJ pain.
How is TMJ Pain Treated?
The treatment of TMJ pain largely depends on the primary cause of the condition. Patients can undergo a range of therapies, including the following
- Counselling, CBT, and self-care advice to manage stress and anxiety.
- Physical therapy or occupational therapy to help with the movement of the jaw joint.
- Occlusal devices, such as mouth guards, that can be worn overnight to create a barrier between the two layers of the teeth and keep the jaw in place.
- Pharmacotherapy and prescription of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxants to ease tension in the jaw muscles.
- Surgery may be required in very severe cases where the above methods are not suitable.
If you are experiencing TMJ pain, you must contact our office immediately. Our team will be able to conduct the appropriate tests and scans to confirm your diagnosis. We will also be able to provide suitable treatments to help ease your pain.
The quicker you get a diagnosis, the quicker you can be treated, and the quicker you can get rid of your TMJ pain!
Dr. Michael Mighton DC, B.Kin