Causes of TMJ Pain, Are You Suffering from Any of These Symptoms?
Let’s begin by breaking things down into bite size pieces. We’ll begin with the jaw joint itself, move on to muscles and, lastly, talk about teeth.
The TMJ as we discussed in a previous post is comprised of 3 parts: the temporal bone, the mandible and a disk that lies in between the bones. When things are healthy and the joint is functioning normally there are no joint noises and you can fully open your mouth with ease. However, just like your hip joint and knee joint, the TMJ can fall prey to degenerative disease.
Degenerative changes of the TMJ may be due to trauma, such as an automobile accident, an unhealthy bite or fit of the teeth, and long term clenching and grinding. The nerve and blood supply lie in the back of the joint, making them susceptible to impingement from trauma or clenching and grinding.
What about popping or clicking? Is this a problem?
Yes, it is! Clicking and popping of the TMJ indicates that the disk is in an unhealthy position, the result of which could be bony change of the condyle, a perforation of the tissue in the back of the joint resulting in bone on bone contact. Also, you could suffer from a closed lock, where you are unable to open your mouth at all.
Now, let’s move on to the muscles. Headaches, migraines, limited mouth opening, neck and shoulder pain involve muscles, fascia and nerves. The photo at the top of the article is an excellent representation of the muscles involved in the TMJ patient.
The muscles we chew, talk, and eat with are all important in treating TMJ pain. It is important to note that Fascia, the shiny silverish or whitish covering of muscles has the job or facility movements of muscle groups and therefore and integral part function of the TMJ and important in treatment as well. Unhealthy habits such as clenching and grinding cause the muscles and fascia to become shortened and tight keeping you from being able to fully open your mouth or feeling fatigue quickly, such as when you are getting your teeth cleaned and need a break.
When muscles and the surrounding tissues are under constant stress you may develop a trigger point or knot in the tissue. This knot can refer pain to other areas such as behind your eye, ear, under the jaw, the temples, and back of the neck. You may also develop one of those pesky knots in the top of your shoulder.
Last but not least, Teeth. Do you have sensitive teeth? Are ALL of your teeth sensitive? Do you feel like you need a root canal but there is nothing wrong with your tooth?
These symptoms are commonly due to clenching and grinding AND muscle dysfunction that we just mentioned above. But what about the FIT of your teeth? It’s important, so let’s have a look.
The way your teeth fit together and clenching and grinding have an affect on your TMJ. Go back to the part of the post and the photos of the TMJ, another result of an unhealthy bite or fit or your teeth is damage to the condyle, and the development of a click or pop. During your exam I will evaluate the fit of your teeth and make suggestions if necessary. Some people, like myself, have never had braces and have relatively straight teeth but absolutely no TMJ problems.
As you can see treating TMJ requires a multifaceted approach with a detailed exam and proper treatment planning. My approach to help you become pain free is conservative, using Non-Narcotic Pain Relieving Techniques, such as myofascial release, Gua Sha, Specialized Splints, and Botox.