That ache you feel in your head could very well be from your jaw. Temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD, is a real problem for some people. The jaw pain, discomfort and malfunction associated with it lead people to seek care and that in turn leads to a confirmed diagnosis and treatment. It isn’t entirely clear what causes TMD, but several things such as physical or mental stress which can lead to clenching or grinding or pressure on the jaw or possibly a misaligned bite (where your upper and lower teeth do not fit together when you close your mouth) might contribute. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, sometimes trauma, a sports accident or a jolting injury to the head, face or neck can also be a cause. Scar tissue can sometimes interfere with bite. TMD can also be a result from minor infection, inflammation or auto-immune disease. Some people may be predisposed to TMD. Whatever the source, TMD can affect your life and your health by making it painful to eat and tough to sleep.
The most common first symptom is in the chewing muscles (jaw joint), usually described by a patient as a dull ache in the jaw and surrounding ears, neck and shoulders. Other symptoms may include pain or soreness in the jaw more in the morning; a clicking or popping sound when opening and closing the mouth; swelling on one side of the face; an earache without an ear infection; teeth sensitivity; difficulty opening and closing the mouth and chewing; stiffness in the jaw when speaking, yawning or eating; recurrent headaches with no other cause.
According to the TMJ Association, most patients are diagnosed and treated by dentists and oral surgeons. If you experience the symptoms listed here, make an appointment with our office. I will examine your bite, assess the joint and muscle tenderness as well as your jaw mobility, take an X-ray, and determine whether TMD is the reason. Most tests are designed to rule out other conditions and causes of symptoms such as sinus infection.
Treatments for TMD range from easy self-care to injections and surgery for more aggressive needs. We typically begin with a conservative, non-invasive approach with recommended basic treatments such as applying heat or a cold pack; stretching, jaw joint exercises to reduce stress and help improve the alignment; and the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin or ibuprofen. Sometimes patients might also benefit from the use of a night guard or from corrective dental treatments. We can determine the best course of action for your situation.
The idea is that while temporomandibular joint disorder can be mildly annoying for some and unbearably painful for others, it is treatable.