If you’ve ever heard your jaw make a clicking or popping sound as you open it or your jaw feels like it’s been stuck or out of place, chances are you’ve had the symptoms of a temporomandibular joint disorder.
For some people, this can be characterized by mild or severe pain around the ear that gets intense while you eat. There are many ways TMJ disorder symptoms manifest themselves, and it’s always good to know what to look for.
Dr. Kelley Mingus is a prominent Oregon dentist who also happens to be a TMJD specialist.
“The temporomandibular joint is more like a sliding hinge that connects the skull and jawbone,” Mingus says. “The part of the TMJ that interacts with other parts is covered with cartilage. These parts are also separated by a small disc that absorbs shock and keeps the movement smooth.”
Mingus says TMJ disorder is similar in a lot of ways to a car going out of alignment, with the shock absorbers not functioning properly. That car will be thrown out of balance and function. Kelley says there are more than 3 million cases of TMJD diagnosed every year.
Symptoms of TMJD include:
Neck and shoulder pain
Jaw lock or a clicking or popping sound
Chronic headaches and migraines
Pain in and around the ear, jaw and face
Difficulty chewing or talking
Difficulty opening or closing the mouth
Dizziness and vision issues
Mingus says you should visit a dentist as soon as you start noticing any of these symptoms. The dentist will check out your jaw and your range of motion. In some cases, dentists may just provide painkillers. This is a red flag, Mingus says.
“TMJ disorders won’t go away if the root of the issue is not resolved,” he says. “Pain medications just treat the symptoms, not the cause, so it’s important to seek a second opinion if only the symptoms are being addressed.”
If it’s a complex situation, however, you may require an X-ray or CT scan to get a detailed view of the bones in the joint area.
“TMJ disorder should not hold you to ransom,” Mingus says. “A quick trip to the dentist is all you need to identify and treat the condition before it becomes more complicated.”