When you think about wear and tear on the joints, you probably think about your knees, hips and back. But do you think about your TMJ jaw joints?
The joints of the jaw, although tiny, are the most dynamic in your body and work like a hinge for your lower jaw, giving you the ability to move your jaw up and down, back and forth, and side to side when you eat, talk, chew and yawn.
Over the years, these joints experience a lot of wear and tear, contributing to the development of temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD.
TMD is a joint and muscle disorder that is extremely painful, and if left untreated, it can limit jaw function, impact your oral health and teeth, and negatively affect your quality of life.
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, more than 10 million Americans are affected by TMD, but many of those are undiagnosed.
What Causes TMD?
The primary cause of TMD is wear and tear on the temporomandibular joints, but the cause of this wear and tear isn’t always the same. Some of the contributors to stress and damage to the joints include:
- Injury from a blow, fall, accident or sports
- An unbalanced bite
- Bruxism (tooth grinding and clenching)
- Obstructive sleep apnea and other sleep disorders
- Joint disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, arthrocentesis and osteoarthritis
- Connective tissue disorders
The Symptoms of TMD
The most common sign of TMD is pain and jaw stiffness, both of which can be mild or intense. For some, TMD symptoms come on quickly (acute), and for others the craniofacial pain and discomfort are there all the time (chronic).
For many people, the early signs of temporomandibular joint disorder start subtly and are frequently overlooked or written off as symptoms of another condition.
The most common signs and symptoms of temporomandibular disorder include:
- Jaw pain or tenderness in the jaw muscles or under the jaw
- Pain in the temporomandibular joints (located right in front of the ears)
- Pain in and around the ear or a feeling of the ear being “full”
- Pain when chewing
- Sensitive teeth
- Difficulty chewing
- Muscle tension or muscle spasms in the jaw area
- Frequent headaches or migraines, especially when you wake up
- Neck pain
- Neck and upper back tension
- Tingling in the hands, arms and upper back
- Forward head posture
- Difficulty opening or closing your mouth
- Locking of the jaw
- Clicking, popping or grating noise when you yawn, chew, or open and close your mouth
- Myofascial pain
Headaches: The Other Side Effect of TMD
TMD doesn’t just affect the jaw and mouth – many people living with temporomandibular joint disorder also suffer from chronic and severe head and facial pain. In many instances, those who live with these side effects are told to take over-the-counter pain relievers or are given prescription medication. Some turn to self-care treatments to reduce their chronic pain and severe headaches.
With these painful symptoms frequently misdiagnosed, those with TMD often end up suffering without answers or relief.
In some cases, individuals with undiagnosed TMD go through many years of pain without diagnosis, living through failed treatments and useless prescriptions to help control uncomfortable symptoms and headaches.
In most cases, headaches caused by TMD appear to be migraines or tension headaches; however, for some individuals, the headaches caused by TMD appear as “sinus” headaches.
How Does TMJ Disorder Cause Headaches?
As temporomandibular joint disorder develops when one or both joints of the jaw are not functioning correctly, the dysfunction can impact the tissues, muscles and nerves surrounding the joint. When these structures are affected, one of the head’s primary nerves, the trigeminal nerve, can become irritated. When this happens, very intense headaches and myofascial pain can develop.
Many people report feeling as if they have a migraine, but these headaches are actually the result of muscular tension.
While the symptoms of TMD are temporary and can be relieved with nonsurgical treatment and self-care such as eating soft foods, relaxation techniques, physical therapy, pain relievers, moist heat, trigger-point massage, cold laser therapy, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, treating the root cause of the problem is the path to real relief.
TMD can be relieved by balancing the bite, which allows the muscles and other tissues surrounding the jaw joints to relax. When the bite is balanced, and the muscles, ligaments and other jaw structures relax, headaches subside significantly, and you can return to living a pain-free life.
Are you living with a painful headache and the symptoms of TMD? You don’t have to suffer or continue to try treatments that do not bring you the relief you need.
We recommend that you call us now to schedule a consultation to learn about your TMD’s root cause. We’ll show you how our treatment can help relieve your painful headaches and other TMD symptoms.