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At Today’s Dentistry, we often see patients who come in with really bad jaw pain and teeth that feel sore, among other issues that can flare up when they’re stressed and tense.
What many of them don’t realise is that nothing may actually be wrong with their teeth but, rather, their symptoms are down to a complex condition related to their jaw joints – or TMJ.
Here, Dr Darryl Marsh gives us a rundown.
The TMJ or temporomandibular joint is your jaw joint – you have two of them that work together. Muscles in your face control the jaw joints. The way wheels move a car, the muscles move the jaws in three directions – up and down, side to side, back and forward – so you can talk, chew and yawn.
The TMJ is part of a larger anatomy – what we call the stomatognathic system. There are three elements that control the way your mouth operates – the jaw joints, the facial muscles and the teeth.
If you overstress any one of these three elements, then you can have problems and symptoms. These painful conditions are called temporomandibular joint disorders or TMD.
The most common issues involve the facial muscles:
Often these pains are temporary. They may be triggered by:
In some people, night-time clenching and grinding is linked to sleep apnoea. This means that those with a long-standing teeth grinding or clenching habit should consider a sleep study to assess for obstructive sleep apnoea, as this condition has far-ranging health consequences. Your dentist should be able to guide you through this process.
You can get headaches as a result of TMJ pain. Often, people diagnose themselves as having migraines because they don’t know that these sorts of headaches could be connected to problems with their jaw joints.
Also, the pain can feel like it’s coming from another part of their body. For example, we had a patient who’d been to their doctor three times because they had an earache, however the doctor kept saying their ears were clear.
Or a patient will come to see us with a toothache, thinking there’s something going on with their tooth, when their tooth is OK and it’s actually the muscles that are causing the problems and the pain is referred.
The most common TMJ symptoms are (1) pain when you wake in the morning, (2) muscles that feel tender, and (3) difficulty eating.
While TMD isn’t fun to live with, often the symptoms are temporary and can be managed with some lifestyle changes and help from your dentist (that’s us!) – read our 5 fast tips (coming soon). As always, a thorough examination and diagnosis are the first step.
For people with severe, 24/7 pain, living with TMD can become a nightmare. As this condition can be complex, chronic cases may require a roundabout of different specialists and therapies to find a solution and get your TMD under control. Start in the right direction with a visit to a physiotherapist, who can help get the muscles functioning properly and the jaw joints mobilised again. For this, we can refer you to The Headache, Neck & Jaw Clinic.