Jaw pain is a common problem affecting millions of people worldwide and it can be very challenging to diagnose and treat. There are multiple causes of jaw pain and the correct diagnosis is vital in the treatment process.  Furthermore, the exact cause will need to be identified in order to provide the best pain-relieving treatment plan.

Your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a hinge that connects your jaw to the temporal bones of your skull, which are in front of each ear. The joint allows you to move your jaw from side to side and up and down. Problems with your jaw and the muscles in your face that control movement is known as temporomandibular disorders (TMD). But you may hear it wrongly called TMJ, after the joint. Therefore, TMD disorders cause pain in your jaw joint and in the muscles that control movement in your jaw.

What Causes Jaw Pain or TMD Disorders?

The exact cause of a person’s TMJ or TMD disorder is often difficult to diagnose. Your pain may be due to many different factors such as genetics, a jaw injury or arthritis. Certain connective tissue diseases may also affect the temporomandibular joint. Some of the population who suffer from pain tend to grind or clench their teeth on a regular basis. Although, this does not mean everyone who clenches or grinds their teeth will develop TMJ disorders.

The Signs & Symptoms

  • Tenderness or pain in the jaw
  • Pain in one or both of the temporomandibular joints
  • Aching pain in and around the ear
  • Aching facial pain
  • The locking of the joint, making it difficult to open or close your mouth

TMD disorders can also cause a grating sensation or a clicking sound when you open your mouth or when you chew. More importantly, if there is no pain present or restriction of movement associated with your jaw clicking, you most likely do not need treatment for a TMJ/TMD disorder.

Diagnosis

During the physical exam, your doctor or dentist will probably:

  • Feel your jaw when you open and close your mouth as well as listen to it
  • Observe the range of motion in your jaw
  • Press on your jaw to identify painful or uncomfortable areas
  • Press on areas around your jaw to identify sites of pain or discomfort

If your doctor or dentist suspects a problem with your teeth, you may need dental X-rays. Furthermore, a CT scan can provide detailed images of the bones involved in the joint, and MRIs can reveal problems with the joint’s disk. TMJ arthroscopy is sometimes used in the diagnosis of a TMD disorder where a small camera is inserted into the joint to view the problem.

Often, the pain and discomfort associated with TMD disorders is short lived and can be relieved with nonsurgical treatments or self-managed care. Home care includes stretching and massage and lengthening the jaw muscles, not overworking your jaw, and alternating heat and ice to decrease pain. Oral splints, mouth guards and physical therapy can also be used to help manage pain.

Treatment

When other methods haven’t helped, your doctor might suggest the following procedures:

  • Arthrocentesis. Arthrocentesis is a minimally invasive procedure where Fluid is injected into the joint to flush debris and inflammatory byproducts.
  • Injections. For some people, corticosteroid injections into the joint can be helpful as well as injecting Botox.
  • TMJ arthroscopy. Arthroscopic surgery is less invasive and just as effective for treating various types of TMJ disorders as open-joint surgery. A small thin tube is placed into the joint space, an arthroscope is then inserted, and small surgical instruments are used for surgery.

If your doctor recommends open-joint surgery, be sure to discuss the potential benefits and risks, and what all your options are. For more information regarding TMJ disorders, jaw pain or sleep disorders contact Vivos today at (801) 691-7365. Our sleep clinic in Orem is ready to help you!

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