Dealing with unexplained jaw tightness, facial pain, or headaches.?
Just the other day, a patient came into our office with the exact same problem. In fact, we see hundreds of patients every year who suffer from similar symptoms.
Many of these patients assume their pain must be caused by a bad tooth. In fact, more often than not, their jaw joints (called the temporomandibular joint or TMJ) are to blame.
Here’s what we explain to these patients, how we help them stop the pain, and how we can help you, too.
What is TMJ?
Your TMJ connects your cheekbones to the jaw. You have a TMJ on either side of your face. These joints work together with several other muscles to allow for a range of movements, including allowing your mouth to open, close, chew, and speak. It’s kind of like a door hinge for your mouth!
When the TMJ is working properly, you don’t even notice it. Unfortunately, this joint can be a little finicky, becoming inflamed or improperly positioned. When this happens, the result is TMJ disorder (or TMD).
What causes TMJ disorder?
There are several problems that can prevent the smooth opening and closing of your jaw and cause TMD.
Your TMJ issues might be fueled by just one thing, but it’s probably more likely a collection of issues coming together to cause pain. Some of the most common causes include:
- Misaligned teeth
- Grinding or clenching your teeth
- Tight facial muscles and jaw
- An injury to your jaw, neck, or head
Lifestyle behaviors that contribute to jaw pain
As if these physical causes aren’t enough, there are several lifestyle factors that can also contribute to and cause TMD.
There are several problems that can prevent the smooth opening and closing of your jaw:
- Poor posture — Slouching can place undue stress on your neck and affect the position of your jaw and cause pain.
- Excessive gum chewing — Chewing on gum all the time or biting your nails, lips, or even things like straws or pens can lead to an overuse of TMJ muscles and cause microtrauma in your joint.
- Diet — Hard and tough foods that are difficult to chew can put a lot of extra pressure and stress on your jaw.
- STRESS — Stress is a big cause of TMJ disorder. In fact, it’s often the leading cause. The temporomandibular joint is the only joint system that can register stress in your body and usually causes you to clench your jaw and grind your teeth.
Symptoms of TMD
The most obvious sign of a TMJ disorder is a tender or painful jaw. However, there are other symptoms you should keep an eye out for:
- Frequent headaches
- Pain when chewing
- Tightness or pain in your jaw — even when you’re not eating
- Trouble sleeping
- Clicking, popping, or grinding sounds in your jaw when you open your mouth
- Stiffness in the muscles in your face, neck, and back
- Dizziness or blurry vision
- Ear pain
- Constant headaches or pain in your temples and behind your eyes
If you are suffering from any of these symptoms, it’s important to talk with your dentist.
If you were a patient who came to us with TMJ pain, here’s the process we would take to diagnose your TMD.
1. We’ll talk with you to learn more about your medical and dental history. We’ll also ask questions to try and understand more about your symptoms. Our goal is to learn more about the location of your pain, when the pain started, and the timing of your pain. For example, does it happen at certain times or after eating certain foods?
2. If it’s been a while since you’ve had dental x-rays, we’ll want to do some new imaging. This will give us a better visualization of what’s really going on under the surface
3. Dr. Catt will perform a thorough jaw joint evaluation. This will include a range of motion test, facial muscle exam, and gentle joint palpation.
4. After our examination is complete, we’ll explain our observations and discuss treatment options. We’re here to answer all of your questions! Together, we’ll decide on a treatment plan that works best for you.
5. Finally, we’ll share some helpful at-home joint exercises to help ease your irritated jaw.
How your dentist can help stop TMJ pain
So how exactly do we treat TMD? Dr. Catt may recommend a variety of treatment options, based on your symptoms.
- Night guard: The most common forms of TMJ treatment, a night guard fits in your mouth like a retainer and keeps you from unknowingly grinding or clenching your teeth at night.
- Orthodontic treatment: Invisible aligners can often be used to align your teeth and properly position your jaw, limiting stress on your TMJ.
- Physical therapy: We sometimes refer patients to a physical therapist to help restore their bite and ease pain. Physical therapy for TMJ often involves stretching and releasing tight muscles and scar tissue of the face and neck. Some have even found acupuncture therapy to be useful in treating TMJ pain.
- Botox® — Believe it or not, Botox® can be very effective for treating TMJ pain. This treatment relaxes your jaw muscles, eliminating tension in your mouth. It also prevents grinding and clenching.
Bonus: At-home techniques for easing and preventing TMD
In addition to a dentist-recommended treatment, you may also want to try a few stress-relieving techniques to help relax your face and jaw. Here are some methods that have worked for our patients:
- Yoga, deep breathing, meditation, massages, and other relaxing activities.
- Recognize when you’re clenching your teeth and softening your jaw, keeping your teeth apart when not eating.
- Avoid constant chewing on gum, biting your nails, or eating too many hard or tough foods.
- Keep an eye on your posture and avoid slumping or slouching.
Talk to Dr. Catt about your TMJ pain
If you’re suffering from TMJ pain and disorder symptoms, give us a call as soon as you can. We want to help you and have a lot of experience treating patients just like you! Dr. Catt is the Rogue Valley’s trusted source for TMJ disorder treatment and is here to help.
Contact us today to schedule your consultation.
Dr. Catt graduated from Oregon Health Science University (OHSU) in 1997 and through his personalized and high-tech approach, has since become one of the most trusted dentists in the Rogue Valley. Dr. Catt is a member and past president of the Oregon Dental Association and is involved in the American Dental Association and Southern Oregon Dental Society. He’s also received recognition from the American College of Dentists and the International College of Dentists for his exceptional professional achievements, exemplary service, and dedication to the continued progress of dentistry.