Place your fingertips on either side of your head, just in front of your ears, and open your mouth. You’re feeling the movement of your temporomandibular joints (TMJs), or the sliding hinge joints that connect either side of your jawbone to your skull.
When your jaw joints are healthy, you don’t give them a second thought — you can open your mouth and chew your food with ease. But when your TMJs are damaged or dysfunctional, the pain can limit jaw movement and make it hard to chew normally or even speak coherently.
About 10 million people in the United States live with chronic TMJ pain. If you’re one of them, the team at Smiles in Springfield can help: As dentists who specialize in TMJ treatment, they offer targeted care solutions that address the underlying cause of TMJ dysfunction and deliver lasting relief.
TMJ dysfunction can be the result of a degenerative condition like arthritis, a traumatic injury that directly impacts the joint, or even longstanding bite misalignment.
In short, anything that stresses, strains, degrades, or damages any part of your jaw joint — from the cartilage that cushions the jawbone socket to the small, shock-absorbing disc that facilitates fluid jawbone movement — can cause TMJ dysfunction.
Problems that may give rise to a TMJ disorder include:
While the team at Smiles in Springfield can usually determine the cause of chronic TMJ pain and dysfunction, some TMJ disorders appear without an obvious or identifiable root cause.
Healthy TMJs allow your jaw to move freely, smoothly, and comfortably. Dysfunctional TMJs, on the other hand, can give rise to a variety of persistent and bothersome symptoms.
A TMJ disorder can begin as an audible clicking or popping sensation whenever you talk, chew, or open your mouth. For as awkward as they may be, these sounds and sensations are usually painless — at least initially.
Most TMJ disorders eventually generate some degree of jaw tenderness or facial pain, either of which may be accompanied by acute pain in one or both joints.
Top signs of a TMJ disorder include:
Jaw pain and stiffness can be irritating as well as concerning, particularly if your symptoms make it hard to eat or talk. Left untreated, TMJ dysfunction usually progresses; eventually, it can lead to very limited jaw movement (lockjaw) or a permanently misaligned bite.
If your dentist at Smiles in Springfield suspects you have a TMJ disorder based on your initial symptoms, they’ll examine your jaws to locate the source of your pain.
In addition to checking your TMJs for signs of abnormal joint erosion, muscle tenderness, and inflammation, they may also measure your jaw strength, test the joints’ range of motion, and listen for signs of abnormal motion, clicking, and popping.
A diagnostic X-ray can check for signs of arthritis, while a CT scan can reveal any problematic discs.
Having an accurate diagnosis is the first step toward creating a treatment plan that successfully addresses your TMJ disorder and resolves your pain. The majority of TMJ disorders respond well to a combination of noninvasive, conservative care solutions.
To start with, over-the-counter pain relievers can take the edge off unrelenting discomfort and help you sleep better at night; ice packs or moist heat can also provide effective short-term relief.
Switching to a soft food diet for a few weeks helps reduce inflammation and pain so your jaws can relax; gently massaging your TMJs and stretching your jaw muscles every day can keep them relaxed as time goes on.
If grinding or clenching your teeth is part of your TMJ disorder, your dentist prescribes a custom oral appliance, or mouthguard, for you to wear at night. Besides alleviating stress on your TMJs, wearing a mouthguard can save your teeth and improve your jaw alignment.
If you’re ready to put an end to chronic jaw pain, we can help. Call 703-634-4239 to book an appointment with one of the TMJ experts in our Springfield, Virginia, office today.