TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders are the most common causes of jaw pain and dysfunctionalities. The muscles that control jaw movements are affected. Learn about the signs, symptoms, and causes of TMJ pain, including when to consult your physician or dentist if you suspect a TMJ disorder.
The TMJ or the temporomandibular joint connects the lower jaw to the sides of your head. This joint is the main reason that enables us to chew, yawn, and even talk owing to its smooth gliding and closing movements. There are muscles attached to this joint that control our jaw positions. The rounded ends of the lower jaw fit into the socket of the joint, and in between, there is a cushion-like soft disc (TMJ disc) that absorbs any shock from the jaws while chewing or any other jaw movements. The joint is also covered for protection by cartilage tissue on either side.
It is a complicated joint in the human body, as it is both a hinge and a sliding joint. When the mouth is open, the rounded ends of the lower jaw (condyles) glide along with the socket of the temporal bone of the face. This gliding motion when we talk, chew, eat, and drink makes the TMJ a sliding joint. When the mouth is closed or in a resting position, the rounded ends of the jaw just firmly fit into the joint socket. This makes the TMJ a hinge joint.
For many people, symptoms of TMJ pain start without any obvious reasons. You need to visit your healthcare provider or dental surgeon if the following symptoms persist for a while:
Research usually shows more prevalence of TMJ disorders in women than in men, as there might be (according to scientists) a potential link between female hormones and TMJ. But, there is no evidence yet to prove this link. The most common causes include:
Rheumatic arthritis or any rheumatic disease is responsible for causing the body’s own immune system to attack the joints, bones, muscles, and organs. Rheumatic diseases are more prevalent in women again with a ratio of 3:1. These diseases being inflammatory and painful, usually get more progressive and worse over time if left untreated and thus contribute to TMJ pain disorders often in the elderly population.
Painful conditions can further occur, especially when one of the following factors pose a risk to the joint cartilage that covers the sides of the temporomandibular joint or to the TMJ disc that acts as a shock absorber between the joint socket and the lower jaw rounded ends (mandibular condyle head):
For many people with TMJ disorders, injuries and pain, the physician or dentist would recommend the use of over-the-counter pain medicines or NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) that relieve pain for short-term use to provide temporary relief from jaw discomfort. When the symptoms of pain persist longer in the patient without any apparent cause, then muscle relaxant medications or stronger painkillers, or even antidepressants would be advised to ease severe discomfort.
Suppose the temporomandibular joint problem is diagnosed as only temporary. In that case, simple treatments that are very conservative (home remedies) will be advised to prevent discomfort or strain on the jaws for a few days.
Gentle jaw stretching and relaxing exercises or stress management techniques like deep relaxation and meditations coupled with time management and proper exercise have also proved temporary relief from TMJ pains.
Stabilization splints may also be recommended by your dental surgeon that would prove to be effective if used for a short span of time. These splints are plastic guards, which are a kind of oral appliance that fits over the upper and lower teeth to stabilize the jaw movements.
Surgical procedures or maneuvers are not always recommended by the dental surgeon or your healthcare provider unless the joint is fractured or dislocated. In case of the lower jaw or condylar fractures, TMJ fracture or dislocations, surgical approaches might be suggested. If surgery is recommended, then let the doctor explain to you the risks involved or about the other types of treatment to wait and watch for your TMJ pain to subside. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scans) may also be useful or advised by the doctor for diagnosing soft tissue injuries of the joint.
Surgical replacement of jaws in severe cases with implants or orthodontic treatments to reposition or change the bite dentally (occlusal adjustment and splints) has proven to be ineffective by researchers so far in regard to temporomandibular joint problems as it may further worsen the jaw and bite force.
Consulting your doctor is of pivotal importance to rule out other major causes of facial pain, such as sinus infections, neuralgias, or ear infections. The signs and symptoms of TMJ pain should not be ignored; thus as the doctor can help you understand the conservative treatment modalities firstly to ease TMJ pain, and if the pain is persistent, your dentist or physician may opt for other treatment strategies.
TMJ (temporomandibular joint) is not necessarily life-threatening but can lead to health issues or become increasingly uncomfortable if left untreated for a long time. The results of neglecting the treatment can include facial pain, teeth damage and misalignment, and damage to your joints. Many factors cause TMJ. TMJ is a severe condition, and you must get it treated as soon as possible. TMJ can seriously disrupt your regular life.
The leading cause of TMJ disorder is the stress or fatigue of the masticatory and craniovertebral muscles caused by the injury due to the repeated motion.
Some of the causes of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) may go without any treatment. Still, most of the TMJ cases have a specific reason and are doubtful to resolve independently without any treatment. Therefore the doctor may suggest a variety of treatment options, usually more than one to be performed simultaneously. Along with other nonsurgical treatments, the medications may help relieve the pain associated with TMJ disorders.
TMJ pain is generally defined as a dull pain in the temporomandibular joint and the surrounding areas, such as the neck, ears, and shoulders. Few people may not feel any pain but still experience jaw functionality problems. Other symptoms of TMJ disorder include soreness or pain in the jaw that is more common in the morning or late afternoon.
The best position to sleep while having TMJ is to lie down on the back because it provides the slightest pressure on the face, jaws, neck, and head that can exacerbate the condition's symptoms. The next position is to lay on the side with a hand under the pillow or keep the hand under the pillow behind the head.
Deep and slow breathing techniques can help relieve the TMJ pain and cure it permanently. However, in many cases, the symptoms of the TMJ disorder disappeared without doing any treatment.
If you have TMJ pain with one or more of the following symptoms, you can easily differentiate between TMJ disorder and other disorders.
- Popping or clicking sounds when chewing or opening your mouth.
- Facial pain.
- Dizziness and balance problems.
- Pain in the upper back and neck.
- Numbness or tingling in the fingers.
- Dental issues, including pain, chips, cracks, or abnormal wear.
- Tinnitus (ringing ears), earaches, or a feeling of fullness in the ears.
Baclofen is the best skeletal muscle relaxant that helps when TMJ is caused due to firm muscles. It is also used in combination with NSAIDs to provide relief from pain and lessen muscle spasms. Cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril) is another muscle relaxant that causes drowsiness and is safer to take at night.
To relax your jaw muscles at night, do a set of quick and easy stretches, then follow up with some simple strengthening activities in the morning. Try massaging the masseter muscles that power the jaw and not forgetting to manage the stress that causes the jaw discomfort.
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a ball-and-socket joint found where the upper and lower jaws assemble. When the TMJ and the associated muscles are injured, they need time to heal, where self-care is very significant. The healing of the TMJ depends on how the body reacts to therapy. It may take a few weeks to months and even years to get healed.
Following specific techniques and therapies may provide relief from TMJ disorder pain and discomfort while also limiting aggravation or recurrence of pain.
- Medications like pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, tricyclic antidepressants, and muscle relaxants can relieve TMJ pain.
- Suppose over-the-counter pain medications are not enough to relieve TMJ pain; the doctor or dentist may prescribe more potent pain relievers for a limited time, such as prescription-strength Ibuprofen.
- A few self-care techniques for TMJ disorders are heat and ice therapy. Applying moist heat over the TMJ may help enhance function and decrease pain.
Last reviewed at:
10 Nov 2021 - 4 min read
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