Identifying the Signs of TMJ and Jaw Pain Issues
Have you ever found yourself laughing at a friend’s joke, only to cut yourself off because of the pain lancing through your jaw? Is it hard to remember the last time you went a week without suffering through at least one migraine? Symptoms like this pull you from joyful moments, and if you’re experiencing them often, the effects can be downright isolating.
If this sounds familiar, the culprit of your pain may actually be the joints of your jaw. This complex, interconnected joint can affect your body in surprising ways. There’s good news, however; finding and treating the source of your jaw pain can relieve your symptoms, freeing you to experience life pain-free again.
You might be wondering if you should schedule a consultation with Dr. Alhadef because you’re not sure if your jaw pain is the culprit of your other symptoms. Here are 10 ways the temporomandibular joint can affect you.
1. Jaw Pain
The most obvious symptom of temporomandibular disorder, or TMD, is jaw pain. This pain can range from severe and sharp or aching sensations to a pervasive stiffness—or a mix of all three. The pain is often made worse by touching the joint or moving your jaws, which might be accompanied by the sound or sensation of the joint clicking or popping. This jaw pain can be constant, but it’s also possible for it to flare up then disappear on its own at seemingly random intervals, with days, weeks, or even months between flare-ups.
2. Difficulty Eating Due to Jaw Pain
Jaw pain can make eating difficult and painful, especially since it’s often worsened by moving the jaw and exerting pressure to chew meals. Even the act of swallowing itself involves moving your TMJ, so doing so could be painful. Unfortunately, this can cause you to try to limit your pain by eating softer, less healthy foods or even by simply not eating enough, both of which can quickly begin impacting your overall health.
3. Feelings of Social Isolation
When moving your jaw at all is painful, social interactions, like speaking and laughing, can suddenly become difficult. As a result, you might find yourself slowly withdrawing from social interactions to lessen your pain. You might start by simply avoiding painful activities, such as eating lunch with your friends, but you may begin avoiding social events in general because talking is painful. Over time, this can cause you to feel isolated or depressed, especially since you don’t want to be alone—you just don’t want to be in pain.
4. Neck and Shoulder Pain
Although it may sound strange that your TMJ can cause neck and shoulder pain, everything in your body is connected, working together in ways we often take for granted to accomplish everyday tasks. If your TMJ isn’t working properly, the muscles nearby may be forced to work overtime to compensate. This includes the muscles around your jaw, as well as those in your neck and shoulders, which work to maintain your posture and keep your head steady as you chew.
When they’re overworked like this, these muscles can become tight and painful, causing your neck, shoulders, and sometimes even your back to feel stiff and sore. In addition to simply being painful, this can interfere with a number of daily tasks. Lifting heavy objects or simply getting comfortable can become unpleasant or even impossible.
5. Frequent Headaches or Migraines
If you have frequent headaches or migraines, or if your headaches have become more frequent or severe since your jaw pain began, the culprit could be your jaw pain itself. Tension headaches or migraines can be triggered by the overworked, tight muscles that are compensating for your TMJ. They can also be caused by the inflammation in the joint itself. This triggers headaches when it spreads to nearby muscles and causes tightness and muscle spasms. If you suffered from headaches or migraines before your TMJ pain started, resolving your TMJ pain likely won’t erase them entirely, but it could lessen their severity or frequency by removing a common trigger for them.
6. Ear Pain, Dizziness, and Hearing Issues
Doctors aren’t 100% sure why some TMD patients experience symptoms in their ears. It is thought that the inflammation or increased pressure caused by TMD affects their inner workings. This can cause ear pain and hearing issues, including tinnitus or hearing loss that makes sounds come across muffled or distant. If the inner ear is affected, you can also experience dizzy spells. Thankfully, treating your TMD will relieve any ear pain you’re experiencing, eliminate dizziness, and may restore your hearing loss.
7. Struggling to Sleep Because of Jaw Pain
Whether your worst symptom is your jaw pain itself or related symptoms, like headaches, earaches, or pain in your neck and shoulders, it’s notoriously difficult to fall asleep when you’re in pain. Even if you fall asleep, pain can impact the quality of sleep you get, causing you to feel exhausted even after a full night’s rest. Since TMJ pain can last for days or weeks at a time, this lack of sleep can add up, leaving you exhausted and making it hard to function on a basic level.
8. Irritable and Quick-Tempered Moods
When you’re in pain or are sleep-deprived—and especially when you’re experiencing both—it’s difficult to hold onto a positive or cheery attitude. You might find yourself grumpy and irritable when you’re suffering from jaw pain and its related symptoms. Not surprisingly, this can make it harder to have a good day and can put a strain on both your professional and personal relationships.
9. Trouble Concentrating
It’s hard to concentrate when you’re in constant pain or are incredibly exhausted, especially if the pain is severe. The pain that TMD can spark in your jaws, muscles, head, and even ears can pose a huge problem on a daily basis. It is hard to focus on and complete tasks quickly and thoroughly at work or school when you are in pain. You may notice that you’re not as efficient at work or that your grades are taking a hit at school. This can quickly become a huge source of daily anxiety.
When TMD is severe, it can cause your jaws to lock in place, preventing you from opening or closing your mouth for a period of time. The onset of this symptom is often sudden and painful, making it alarming for many people. It can indicate an injury to the muscles, nerves, ligaments, or tendons around the joint. If your jaw locks like this, it’s a sure sign that you should get your TMJ examined by a professional.
If you recognize a few of these symptoms from your own struggles with jaw pain, the good news is treating your TMD can bring you relief and help you regain a daily life that’s free of pain. Feel free to call our office at any time to ask questions or schedule a consultation with Dr. Alhadef. We’ll help you get to the bottom of your jaw pain and iron out a plan to free yourself from it.