The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is located on either side of your head near your ears and connects your jaw bone to your skull. It’s a ball-and-socket joint with a disc in-between that allows the jaw to move freely without friction.
The combination of joint, muscles, disc, and connective tissue allows the jaw to perform complex movements that otherwise would not be possible, such as opening your mouth and moving your jaw from side to side. These movements allow us to chew, speak, and yawn with ease.
However, as a result of the TMJ’s complexity, it can cause adverse symptoms if something’s wrong with the joint. For example, a misaligned bite could put unnecessary pressure on the TMJ, leading to chronic symptoms.
TMJ disorders encompass a range of problems in which this necessary joint doesn’t function properly. What are some of the signs or symptoms of a possible TMJ disorder?
Frequent headaches could originate from an issue with your temporomandibular joints. When these joints don’t work properly, whether due to an improper bite, genetics, or extra stress placed on the joint from teeth grinding, muscle tension can result.
Muscle tension can be chronic and radiate throughout the head and even the neck, shoulders, and upper back. Whether you experience frequent headaches or even migraines, it could be time to visit your dentist to determine if your jaw could be at the root of the problem.
Tinnitus is defined as the sensation of noise in the ear, and can only be heard by the person experiencing it. Tinnitus could present as a ringing in the ears, but it could also be other sounds, such as popping, roaring, or buzzing.
There is evidence that links tinnitus and TMJ disorders. The temporomandibular joint is very close to the ear, and as such, any issue with the joint can cause ear pain or a dull aching in the ears. Some patients may also hear a clicking or grating sound when moving their jaw.
If you have ear pain, tinnitus, or other odd sensations in your ears (such as feeling as though your ears are clogged), consider following up with your Asheville dentist. A thorough evaluation of your TMJ can help determine if there’s an issue that’s causing your ear symptoms!
As we’ve mentioned, some people hear odd sounds when their jaw is in motion. These sounds may be only audible to the person experiencing them, or others may hear a popping or clicking noise as well when the person opens their mouth, is eating, or even speaking.
Why is jaw clicking a sign of a problem with the TMJ? This clicking noise comes from the displacement of the disc that helps cushion the joint. The disc moves forward when you’re closing your mouth, and if the joint is inflamed or out of alignment, you may hear a click, then you may hear a cracking noise as the disc repositions itself upon opening your mouth.
These noises aren’t normal and people who may have a TMJ disorder could hear popping, clicking, or cracking sounds when opening and closing their mouth.
Facial Pain or Aching
Temporomandibular joint disorders can cause discomfort or pain in the muscles that help your jaw function, which are located in the face. If there’s an issue with your TMJ, you could experience a sore jaw or painful facial muscles without knowing why.
The tension that often results from a problematic TMJ can also cause discomfort at the joint itself or near the ears. People may also experience pain when chewing originating from outside the oral cavity with no known source.
For many people with a TMJ disorder, this pain is chronic. For others, the pain may come and go. Either way, discomfort in your facial muscles is a sign something else is going on, and your professional dentist in Asheville can help diagnose the problem.
Trouble Opening Your Mouth All the Way
People who have a problem with their TMJ may not be able to fully open their mouth, such as when yawning. Some patients who have a severe TMJ disorder may even experience a locked jaw, which occurs when a person can’t move their jaw until the joint is repositioned.
When opening your mouth, the cartilage disc in the ball and socket of the TMJ helps keep jaw motion smooth. However, if you experience pain when yawning or even just with opening your mouth all the way, your temporomandibular joint could be to blame.
You Grind Your Teeth
The relationship between teeth grinding also called bruxism and the TMJ is complex. Teeth grinding in and of itself is an issue that can have numerous causes, and can place additional stress on the TMJ, leading to an worsening of TMJ symptoms that may already exist.
However, teeth grinding could also play a role in causing TMJ disorders, as it puts pressure on the muscles, connective tissue, and the joint itself, which can cause inflammation. If your grind your teeth and also experience some of the TMJ symptoms we’ve discussed above, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your experienced Asheville dentist!
Get a Professional Exam with Dr. Saunders
There is treatment for TMJ disorders, and it all depends on your symptoms and the suspected cause of your disorder. When you make an appointment with us at Saunders DDS, we review your symptoms and take dental x-rays to determine what’s causing your jaw discomfort and why.
Therapy for TMJ disorders could range from anti-inflammatory medication to physical therapy to treatment for suspected underlying causes, such as bruxism. For severe cases, surgery may be necessary. However, for the majority of patients, TMJ pain can be managed with simple lifestyle changes.
Have you been experiencing jaw pain or discomfort without knowing what the cause is? You could have a TMJ disorder and not realize it. Call us at Saunders DDS today at (828) 277-6060 or click here to schedule an appointment with Dr. Saunders for your jaw pain. We can help you address the cause of your discomfort so you can live a pain-free life!