TMJ, TMD, and Your Jaw Pain
It’s easy to forget how amazing and complex the human body is. After all, when we use something every day—even our own bodies—it tends to become normal. The truth is that every aspect of the human body is connected. For instance, when you experience jaw pain, you might also experience headaches or back pain.
When one area of your body encounters a problem, the complexity of the human body means that it can sometimes cause a ripple effect. Your jaw is one of these parts of your body that can have a big affect on your health. Your jaw helps you enjoy life, playing a role in smiling, laughing, eating, and even swallowing. The joint in your jaw is a complex, interconnected joint, and an issue with it can affect you in ways you probably haven’t even considered.
Thankfully, this also works in your favor! Discovering and treating the problem can relieve a wide range of symptoms, helping your entire body to function better. If you’re experiencing jaw pain, terms like TMJ and TMD might be confusing at first, but you don’t have to navigate them—or your pain—alone! We’ve put together a guide to help you start learning more about your jaw and how it may be affecting your health.
What is TMJ? What is TMD?
TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint, which is one of the two interconnected, ball-and-socket joints that make up your jaw. These joints are complex and incredibly unique, functioning together to allow you to move your jaw forward and back, up and down, and side to side. Since the two joints are connected by your lower jaw bone, you can’t move one without also moving the other.
When there’s an issue with these joints or the surrounding muscles or nerves, it’s often referred to as a TMD or temporomandibular joint disorder. Instead of being a specific condition with a single cause, TMD is an umbrella term for a group of symptoms that can have several potential causes. These potential causes can include an injury to the joint or surrounding muscles, jaw misalignment, joint conditions like arthritis or Ehler-Danlos syndrome, or habitually clenching or grinding your teeth. As you research the condition online, you’ll likely notice that, despite the difference between the two terms, many sources will use TMD and TMJ interchangeably to refer to temporomandibular joint dysfunction.
What are the symptoms of TMD?
Since TMD is a condition that specifically impacts your jaw, it’s understandable to expect that the pain will be isolated in your jaw. While it certainly has a significant impact on that area , TMJ symptoms are wide-ranging, including:
- Jaw pain.
- Difficulty chewing, speaking, or even swallowing.
- Clicking, popping, or grating sounds or sensations.
- Tense, sore, or painful muscles in your face, jaw, neck, shoulders, and back.
- Frequent headaches.
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
- Hearing loss.
So, how does TMD cause all these symptoms? When your joints aren’t working properly, the muscles around them work harder to pick up the slack. This can cause a chain reaction, where the muscles in your jaw, neck, shoulders, and even back are working harder than they should to relieve stress from the muscles around them, causing them to become sore, painful, and tense. Muscle tension can also happen because when you’re in pain, you tend to tense up. Additionally, if there’s inflammation in the joint or surrounding muscles, that inflammation can spread, increasing the pressure in your head or ears to cause symptoms like headaches, earaches, and dizziness.
What can I do to relieve my jaw pain?
When it comes to TMJ treatment, the good news is that there are a lot of options out there! Which treatment is right for you depends on the root cause of your TMD, but many treatments are simple and easy to do at home. With proper treatment, most people’s TMD resolves or greatly improves, so there’s hope at the end of your TMD journey! Here are some steps you can take to ease your jaw pain.
1. See the Dentist for Jaw Pain
If you’re struggling with TMJ pain, the best thing you can do is schedule an appointment with your dentist. Dr. Alhadef is a highly trained neuromuscular dentist in Dallas who has extensive experience identifying and treating TMD. During your appointment, Dr. Alhadef will do a comprehensive exam to find the source of your pain. Since there are many potential causes of TMD, there are also many TMD remedies, so determining the cause of your pain is essential to choosing the best treatment for you.
Once he’s figured out the cause, Dr. Alhadef will come up with a treatment plan specifically designed for you. Even simple treatments can often bring great relief and transform your daily life, so Dr. Alhadef will start you on simpler treatments whenever possible.
2. Stress Management
If the root cause of your TMD is habitually clenching or grinding your teeth or frequently holding your muscles tense, there’s often a reason for these behaviors: stress. Thankfully, there are plenty of resources and strategies out there to help you manage your stress levels. Awareness is part of the battle here, as we often don’t even realize we are feeling stressed until that jaw pain flares up!. Try cutting down on your responsibilities, practicing mindfulness, or making a conscious effort to switch off at the end of the day.
3. Relaxation Techniques for Jaw Pain
Another way you can find relief for stress-related causes of TMD is by trying relaxation techniques. There are a lot of different options out there that you can try, including breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga. Everyone’s different, so some of these techniques might work better for you than others. Focusing on relaxing will help you feel happier and healthier mentally and will help you stop habits like bruxism, relieving your TMJ symptoms.
4. Jaw Exercises
Another relatively common cause of TMD is weak muscles around the joints. Strengthening these muscles helps them do their jobs better with less stress put on them and other nearby muscles, significantly improving or eliminating your jaw pain. Thankfully, there are plenty of exercises designed for just this purpose. They’re incredibly simple to do at home and don’t take very long, but just remember to start slow and add more repetitions and new exercises as your jaw gets stronger.
5. Advanced TMJ Treatment for Jaw Pain
If your TMD doesn’t respond to less invasive treatments or has a more involved cause, such as a misaligned bite or uneven teeth, you may need more involved treatments. A few of these potential treatments include prescription medications, Botox injections, orthodontics like Invisalign, or neuromuscular orthodontics, the latter of which might be used to straighten your bite and ensure that your jaw, teeth, and muscles all work together properly.
Dr. Alhadef may also use orthotic splint therapy, which uses a custom-made orthotic to position your jaw properly and relieve pressure on it. Comprehensive restorative treatment is another option that changes the way your teeth fit together, giving them the best function and appearance possible. These treatments might sound a little more intimidating, but don’t worry! Dr. Alhadef and our team will be with you throughout the process, ready to answer all your questions and make the process as easy as possible.
Temporomandibular joint dysfunction can have a significant impact on your daily life, but that impact doesn’t have to last forever! Finding the best treatment option for you can set you on the path to regaining the freedom to live pain-free again. If you’d like to learn more about TMD or to take the first steps toward treatment, feel free to schedule a consultation with Dr. Alhadef at any time.