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What Causes TMJ Pain and How Can I Find Relief?

By March 2, 2020September 22nd, 2023No Comments

woman with a headacheWhile pain in your temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, can be due to things like excessively chewing gum or an injury, when it’s frequent and combined with other symptoms, which we’ll get to shortly, it’s a sign of a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD or TMD). As a general dentist practicing Orthodontics only, Dr. James Scramstad has expertise in evaluating TMJ pain, determining whether or not you’re suffering from a temporomandibular joint disorder, and helping you find relief. 

What is TMJ?

We all have two temporomandibular joints, or TMJs, with one on either side of our face. The joint connects the jawbone to the skull. It’s actually one of the most complex joints in the body because it’s a sliding hinge that allows the jaw to move back to front, side to side and up and down. Your TMJ and the muscles in your face work together to let you open and close your mouth to yawn, chew and speak, as well as perform actions like swallowing. 

When there is an issue with the joint, people sometimes call it TMJ. However, TMJ is actually referring to the joint itself. A problem with the TMJ is technically called a temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJD or TMD. 

What are the TMD Symptoms?

The most common symptoms of TMJD, include:

  • Pain and tenderness in the TMJ, face, neck and ears
  • Headaches 
  • Stiffness in the jaw muscles
  • Limited movement of the jaw
  • Locking of the joint where you’re unable to open or close your mouth
  • Pain while chewing 
  • Clicking and popping noises or a grating sensation when you open your mouth or chew (if there’s no pain, however, you don’t typically need treatment if you just have popping or grating)
  • A change in the way the upper and lower teeth fit together

What Causes TMJD?

There isn’t one single cause that has been pinpointed for causing TMJD and often times, the root cause isn’t clear. However, TMJ pain and disorders can be the result of:

  • The disk eroding or moving out of alignment
  • Arthritis that damages the cartilage in the joint
  • Dislocation or damage to the joint from trauma
  • Grinding your teeth (bruxism)
  • A piece of the joint’s cartilage slipping out of place

How is TMD Diagnosed?

When you visit Dr. Scramstad for TMJ pain, he does a thorough examination and checks for tenderness, swelling and range of motion. He’ll also chat with you about your health history and symptoms. In some cases, when TMJD is severe, imaging tests like x-rays, or a CBCT 3-D scan, may also be necessary. 

What are My TMJ Pain Treatment Options?

While there are a number of TMD treatment options, we always recommend trying a less invasive treatment before resorting to anything permanent, such as surgery. Here are some of the ways we address TMJ pain:

  • Homecare – Patients often ask about TMD treatments at home and there’s plenty you can do on your own to alleviate TMJ pain, especially in mild cases. The main thing is to rest the joint. Stay away from chewing gum and stick to soft foods until the pain subsides. You can also use ice on your face where the joint is for 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off. Try to limit motion. If you’re stressed and find yourself clenching your jaw, practice deep breathing exercises or do something you find relaxing like reading a book, or taking a bath. Even if you are receiving treatment at Straight Smiles or another practice, you’ll still want to put some of these homecare ideas into action. 
  • Medications – Over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen can be helpful for managing TMJ pain and also reducing swelling. Occasionally, a stronger anti-inflammatory might be prescribed for swelling. 
  • Custom Oral Appliances – Oral appliances can be successful if your TMJ pain stems from bruxism, or teeth grinding. A custom nightguard helps protect your teeth and also cushions the joints against the detrimental effects of clenching and grinding. 
  • BOTOX® Injections – At Straight Smiles, we offer Botox for TMJ pain. We inject the muscles used for chewing, which causes the muscles to relax and reduces discomfort. It can be an excellent alternative to surgery because it’s not permanent, and injections are quick and well tolerated. 
  • TMJ Surgery – There are several different types of TMJ surgery, including open-joint surgery, TMJ arthroscopy and modified condylotomy. However, these should always be the last resort if nothing else has helped your TMJ pain. We do not do this kind of work at Dr. Scramstad’s office and we will make an appropriate referral to an Oral Surgeon as needed. 

If you’re ready to say goodbye to TMJ pain, schedule a consultation at Straight Smiles today. Dr. Scramstad will evaluate your jaw and help you decide on the best treatment option for your needs. 


Dr. James Scramstad

Author Dr. James Scramstad

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