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Is My Jaw Pain TMJ?

It’s been going on for weeks. You wake up and feel like you had no sleep at all. You’re struggling at work, you’re short with others, and you are utterly and entirely exhausted. To top it off, your mouth hurts. Not only does it hurt, but it is a constant and dull pain that won’t go away. It’s impacting your meals and making it hard for you to concentrate during the day.

If this scenario sounds like you, you may be experiencing TMJ disorder. TMJ refers to your jaw joint, more officially known as the temporomandibular joint. Signs that you might have TMJ disorder include jaw pain, clicking and popping sounds when you open and close your mouth, popping sounds in your ears, earaches, headaches, pain in your temples, and a dull throb or soreness in your jaw. In extreme cases, you may also experience locking of the jaw, referred to as lock-jaw.

What is TMJ therapy?

If you are experiencing jaw pain that doesn’t seem to go away on its own, your dentist will want to conduct some tests to determine if you have TMD (temporomandibular joint dysfunction). TMD is usually caused by one of three factors:

  1. Chronic teeth grinding or clenching—usually due to stress.
  2. An injury to the jaw.
  3. Misalignment of the teeth.

Advanced dentistry can treat all three of these concerns.

Diagnosing TMD

At Millennium Dental, we determine if you have TMD by assessing your jaw’s movement and seeking indications that your teeth are misaligned. We will also look for evidence of teeth grinding and jaw clenching, and check the surrounding areas of your jaw for inflammation and general discomfort or soreness.

In some cases, we will choose to take an X-ray of your lower face or deploy a bite analysis to better understand what might be causing your TMD. And in extreme situations, we may suggest an MRI to show us if there are challenges with the jaw joint’s disk or surrounding soft tissues. With all of this information, we can best determine if TMJ therapy is in order.

Medications for TMD

TMJ therapy consists of non-surgical methods and a combination of medication and physical therapy. Typical medications to treat TMD include pain relievers and anti-inflammatories, Tricyclic antidepressants, or muscle relaxants. Pain relievers are used when over-the-counter medications don’t seem to be working. Tricyclic antidepressants work to alter the way your body interprets pain, often blocking these signals. Muscle relaxants can be used to relax your TMJ muscles, allowing you to get a better sleep. .

Caring for Your Whole Self

It’s no secret that we live in stressful times, and stress can be a major trigger for clenching and grinding your teeth in your sleep. TMJ symptoms may be stemming from other things going on in your life (such as worry, stress, depression, and anxiety). Dr. Harrison strives to ensure that your whole self is cared for, and may even suggest you see your primary care physician to explore these other triggers. If you are stressed or experiencing depression or anxiety, TMD may simply be an after-effect. At Millennium Dental, our goal is to provide nothing less than a compassionate and gentle approach to patient care.

Non-Drug Therapies for TMD

We know how important your sleep is, and when you have TMD, your sleep is easily disrupted. Thus, some non-drug therapies have proven very useful in lessening the effects of TMD. In most cases, we’ll suggest a mouth guard, otherwise known as a nightguard. When fitted correctly, a night guard will help shift your jaw and teeth into the proper alignment, which will help prevent your teeth grinding while you sleep. Nightguards are well known to help minimize jaw tension, thus relieving stress-related headaches and pain.

Physical Therapy for TMD

In some cases, we will recommend physical therapy to help stretch and strengthen your jaw muscles. This might include exercises to strengthen your jaw muscles, massage or ultrasound therapy to loosen and relax your muscles, or heat and ice treatment to lessen the inflammation.

Your mouth needs sleep too.

There’s no doubt that we need our sleep. A lack of sleep can lead to accidents, trouble with thinking and concentration, memory issues, mood swings, high blood pressure, weight gain, a weakened immune system, and more. And when your body isn’t operating at full capacity, decision-making can be compromised. This means you might skimp on basic oral care such as brushing your teeth and flossing.

To make matters worse, when we don’t get sleep, we’re more prone to developing depression or anxiety, and that can increase the chances of teeth grinding and clenching. By searching for the core cause of your pain, you can treat your TMD and the underlying issues, ensuring you can sleep soundly, and wake up pain-free and ready to be your best self.

While it might seem strange that a sore jaw could lead to an anxiety diagnosis, it’s just one example of why Dr. Harrison and the team focus on your whole health. By taking the extra time to get to know our patients and understand their needs, we can better diagnose and treat their oral health concerns. If you are experiencing trouble sleeping as well as jaw pain, don’t hesitate to call. Your sleep is essential, and we’re here to work with you on the best course of TMJ therapy so that you can start catching your ZZZs.