Damage or injury to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) can cause acute or chronic pain in the jaw, face, head, neck, and shoulders. At Woodcreek Dental, our team of dental professionals can diagnose the cause of this condition and help you find relief for these and other related symptoms.

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is an atypical diarthrosis (synovial) joint. Located on either side of the head, this joint plays one of the body’s key connector and movement roles. The TMJ connects the mandible, also known as the lower jaw or jawbone, and the temporal bone or skull. Together with other muscles and ligaments, the TMJ facilitates complex eating, swallowing, talking, and yawning movements.

Causes, Symptoms, and Signs

Age-related wear and tear as well as microtrauma and macrotrauma, disease, and poor oral habits can damage or injure the TMJ and its associated anatomical structures. These events can cause the TMJ to stop functioning optimally; a condition called a temporomandibular joint dysfunction or disorder (TMD).

Signs and symptoms of TMD can be either acute or chronic. In addition to jaw, face, head, neck, or shoulder pain, you may also experience ear pain, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), or suffer hearing loss. You may also hear a clicking, grating, and or popping sound when your temporomandibular joint moves as you eat or yawn. TMD can also cause muscle spasms that make swallowing difficult.

People with TMD may also experience headaches, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. Their face and mouth may swell, and their jaw may either lock when wide open or may not open fully at all. In some rare cases, a history of poor teeth development and arrangement, or emotional distress may be observable.

Treating Temporomandibular Joint Disorders

Temporomandibular disorders are common in children and adolescents. Emotional stress is most often the trigger or aggravator in these cases. Women aged between 20-45 years also show a higher prevalence of TMD.

As the condition has multiple causes, effective treatment depends on getting an accurate diagnosis. To determine the right course of treatment, our dentist starts by reviewing your medical history. This review helps narrow down the causes.

Next, our dentist will perform a physical examination. We will check your head, neck, face, and temporomandibular joints to get a good understanding of your symptoms. This review assesses any tenderness, pain, swelling, muscle spasms, and joint movement, among other symptoms. Additional diagnostics tools may be used for further clarity, including x-rays, ultrasound, CT, or MRI scans.

Treatment options can include anti-inflammatory and pain medications, dietary, and lifestyle changes. If bruxism is the underlying cause, we may suggest wearing a day or night mouth guard. Some symptoms of TMD can be treated by applying a warm compress or giving the jaw a break by switching to soft foods.

For chronic TMD, we may recommend working with either an ENT, pain specialist, or physiotherapist, depending on your symptoms. Surgery is rarely used to treat TMD as conservative and non-surgical treatments work effectively, especially when the condition is diagnosed early.

If you are experiencing pain in your jaw joints, please contact Woodcreek Dental at (805) 482-6389 to schedule an appointment. Our team is at the ready to help you find a solution.

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