TMJ Pain: What Causes It and Treatment Options

TMJTMJ disorders are due to problems with the temporomandibular joint, which is the area right in front of the ear on either side of the head. This area is where the upper and lower jaw meet. The muscles attached to, and surrounding the jaw joint, control both the position and movement of the jaw. Pain in this area of the body can make simple actions incredibly painful. Fortunately, we offer treatment options to relieve some of this pain.

Finding the TMJ

The TMJ has a unique sliding ball and socket construction that has a disc between it. This joint is the only joint in the entire body that can move in all directions. The TMJ moves the jaw in activities like biting, chewing, talking and yawning. As a result, it is one of the most used joints in the body. As a result, it can also be damaged and can lead to TMJ disorders.

A patient coming in for an examination will find that the dentist places a finger on a triangular area directly in front of the ear. The dentist will then move the finger slightly forward and press it firmly while asking the patient to open their mouth. Patients who are experiencing difficulties with their TMJ, will find the simple act of opening and closing their mouth causing considerable pain.

The pain is due to the lower jaw sliding along the joint socket of the temporal bone. When one of the many parts that work together no longer function properly, it can lead to problems with the TMJ and significant pain. Knowing where to find this joint helps some patients to isolate the source of their pain and symptoms.

Diagnosing TMD (Temporomandibular joint disorder)

There are many conditions that can mimic the symptoms of TMD. These often include a toothache, sinus problems, inner ear infection, arthritis or gum disease. In order to determine whether or not the pain is a result of TMD, the dentist will conduct a careful evaluation. The evaluation will cover a patient's history, require X-rays to determine the causes of the symptoms, and include a very detailed dental examination.

Dentists will typically order a CT scan in order to provide detailed images of the bone and joint, as well as an MRI to show any issues with the joint's disk. Once the dentist makes a positive diagnosis of TMD, identifying it as the source of the pain, we can develop a treatment plan.

Some treatment options

There are many different ways to treat TMJ disorder. Depending on the level of pain, the dentist will recommend a treatment regimen. For some patients, this includes using medications like painkillers, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, corticosteroids or injections of botulinum toxin. Some patients may find that they have to use therapies like night guards or go in for psychological therapy if their symptoms are due to stress or anxiety. Sometimes, none of these can help, so the patient will have to have surgical treatment including a dental adjustment, joint aspirations or TMJ surgery.

Find out what options would work well for you by speaking with a dentist in our office.

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