TMJ Disorders associated with Orofacial pain

Familiar with TMJ disorders?

Why would your face be in so much pain? It might be TMJ disorder

So what exactly is TMJ?

The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are sliding hinges between your jawbone and skull. There is one joint on each side of your jaw. To be a bit more specific, they are the joints that slide and rotate at the front of the ear. The joints consist of the mandible which is the lower jaw, and the temporal bone. The mandible and joints allow for proper muscle actions to take place within the jaw area such as chewing, talking, yawning, and swallowing. However, when these joints become unaligned, this can create a host of problems. 

TMJ disorders

TMJ disorders or temporomandibular disorders (TMD) are disorders involving the jaw muscles, temporomandibular joints, and the nerves associated with orofacial pain. There isn’t always an exact cause for why TMJ disorders occur. The pain from these disorders could be a result from genetics, arthritis, or an injury to the jaw. Basically any problem that prevents the muscles, bones, and joints from working together smoothly can result in a TMJ disorder. 

There are currently three classifications of TMJ disorders:

  • Orofacial pain: Discomfort or pain primarily in the face, jaw, and neck. 
  • Derangement of the joint internally: Either a dislocated jaw or displaced disk have occurred. An injury to the condyle could have also occurred (round end of the jaw bone that articulates with the temporal skull bone.)
  • Degenerative joint disease: This can be from either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in the jaw joint. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis that affects millions of people all over the world. The protective cartilage that has been cushioning the bones have been worn down, and this type of arthritis is affected most in your hands, knees, hip, and spine. 

Rheumatoid arthritis is more of an autoimmune disease where your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body by accident. The lining of the joint also becomes inflamed creating joint tissue damage. This tissue damage can cause both long lasting and chronic pain. This results in painful swelling in affected areas of the body including the hands, wrists, and knees. If rheumatoid arthritis isn’t diagnosed as soon as possible, the disease can cause problems in other organs such as the lungs, heart, and eyes. This classification of TMJ disorders will typically require the most treatment. 

Arthritis commonly affects the wrists.

Signs and symptoms

Here are some common signs and symptoms of a TMJ disorder:

  • Jaw discomfort and soreness.
  • Headaches.
  • Pain around the eyes, face, shoulder, neck, and back.
  • Earaches or ringing in the ears.
  • Teeth sensitivity without oral disease.
  • Clicking or locking of the jaw.
  • Limited mouth motions. 

Treatment for TMJ disorders and diagnosis 

If you have been noticing any pain or tenderness in your face or jaw, please reach out to your doctor or dentist. They will likely discuss your symptoms initially and then examine your jaw. They will listen to and feel your jaw, observe the jaw’s range of motion, and press on areas to determine a place of discomfort or weakness. If a problem is suspected, you may also need a dental x-ray, CT scan, or MRI. So be prepared for tests! Symptoms of TMJ disorders may go away on their own without any treatment necessary. If the symptoms do not go away on their own, your doctor will provide you with medication options to relieve pain that comes along with the disorder. 

These medications may help relieve the pain associated with TMJ disorders: 

  • Pain relievers: Medications such as Ibuprofen and Tylenol can help reduce the pain.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants: Antidepressants such as Amitriptyline can sometimes be used for pain relief in small doses and even help you sleep a little bit better. 
  • Muscle relaxants: Muscle relaxants can help to relieve pain caused by TMJ disorders that resulted from muscle spasms. 

Tylenol pain medication
Tylenol pain relief medication. Image courtesy of Target. 

You might have to do some therapy for your TMJ disorder. Non drug therapies for TMJ disorders include:

  • Oral splints/mouth guards: Wearing a soft or firm device over the teeth can help with jaw pain.
  • Physical therapy: Exercises to strengthen and stretch jaw muscles include using your tongue to push on your top front two teeth. While you’re doing that, slowly open your mouth so that you are stretching out those muscles. 
  • Other forms of therapy: If you are engaging in a habit that is causing your TMJ disorder, you may want to try and seek some sort of counseling and therapy to deal with the issue. Many people will clench or grind their teeth when they feel stressed or anxious which can result in a TMJ disorder. If you are someone who struggles with an anxiety disorder or mental health related issue, the teeth grinding and clenching could be even worse. 
Amitriptyline antidepressants
Amitriptyline antidepressant medication may be able to help with your TMJ pain. Image courtesy of Medworks Media

How can I prevent myself from developing a TMJ disorder or bringing back symptoms?

  • Clenching or grinding our teeth can throw off the position of our temporomandibular joints resulting in a TMJ disorder to develop. Wear a night guard to help with this issue! You can find one on Amazon for just $12.50.
  • If you play any sports, always remember to wear your mouth guard while playing to prevent injuries to your mouth. 
  • Practice good posture. 

The doctor's nightguard
The Doctor’s NightGuard you can find for only $12.50 on Amazon. Image courtesy of Walmart

All in all, orofacial pain can be the result of something more complex such as a TMJ disorder. These disorders are not always caused by something in particular, but hopefully now you’re more aware of habits you need to break or changes that need to be made. If you’re concerned you may have a TMJ disorder, remember to contact your doctor or dentist and know that there are many treatment options available out there!

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