TMJ, or temporomandibular joint disease, is a complex condition that can worsen over time. It is generally caused by misalignment of the teeth, and can gradually erode the joint capsule between the jawbone and the skull. TMJ can be tricky to diagnose, and some people suffer from pain for years before the condition is discovered. Once it is recognized, however, TMJ responds well to a combination of clinical treatment and lifestyle changes.
1. Clicking or Popping
Although every case of TMJ is different, its hallmark is a clicking or popping sound in the jaw. If you experience this without any other symptoms, you may not need treatment at this time. However, it is important to have it properly diagnosed so that you and your dentist can carefully monitor it for any other symptoms that might arise.
2. Pain with Jaw Movement
When the teeth are misaligned, the jaw muscles try to compensate by pulling the temporomandibular joint out of alignment to create a more stable bite. Therefore, TMJ sufferers often experience pain while chewing. Many people feel this pain as an earache, as well as a pain in the jaw. Other common pain triggers including yawning and speaking.
3. Other Pain
TMJ can cause referred pain in unexpected places. Some sufferers report headaches, neck and shoulder pain, and even toothaches. The pain is generally worse when moving the jaw, but can arise even when the jaw is at rest.
4. Locking Jaw
A common symptom of TMJ is the tendency for the jaw to lock. You might have trouble closing your mouth after opening it wide, or getting it to open after keeping it closed for a period of time. When you do get your jaw moving, it will probably pop into alignment with an audible click.
5. Tired Facial Muscles
TMJ forces your other muscles to compensate. If your face feels tired and saggy, particularly on one side, it could be a sign of TMJ. You might feel the tiredness only after using your jaw, or you might experience a persistent discomfort. This can increase until it becomes pain, or remain at a low level.
6. Trouble Chewing
Since TMJ pulls your jaw out of alignment, trouble chewing is extremely common. Your muscles will attempt to compensate, but if your teeth are badly misaligned, it might not be possible. Your teeth might feel like they do not close properly, and you might have difficulty with chewy or crunchy foods. Humans are very good at compensating, so pay close attention to your bite. Your top teeth should evenly meet your bottom teeth without any stretching or straining.
7. Facial Swelling
Although it is not a common symptom, many TMJ sufferers experience swelling on one side of the face. This is likely due to inflammation and damage to the joint capsule. It might be mild or severe, and it could be persistent or show up only after using your jaw.
8. Other Symptoms
One of the reasons that TMJ is hard to diagnose is that it can cause a wide range of nonspecific symptoms. Some people experience ringing in the ears (tinnitus), dizziness, and even hearing difficulties. Keep a log of any unusual symptoms you have, and review it with your dentist at your TMJ screening.
TMJ is a complex and hard to diagnose disorder that can worsen over time. It can even lead to irreparable damage if it remains untreated. Fortunately, with proper evaluation and diagnosis, TMJ can be halted and its effects reversed. If you have experienced jaw clicking, jaw or ear pain, trouble chewing, facial swelling, or any nonspecific head or neck symptoms, bring them to your dentist’s attention. The sooner TMJ is caught, the greater the likelihood that its effects can be fully removed.
At Family Dental Care of Bellevue, we are committed to providing quality dental care to our patients and their families. We are proud to have been voted one of the best dental offices in Washington State. If you are ready to take the first steps toward improving your dental health, we invite you to call 425-643-5778 today to make an appointment for your initial consultation.