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Jaw Joint Pain and Headaches

Head, neck and the facial pain often occur with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems. A problem with TMJ can often masquerade as many other conditions. Temporomandibular Joint Disorders, more commonly known as “TMD” is a term used to describe conditions affecting the jaw joint and the muscles that control the joints. 

What are the symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD)?

These include:

  • Tension type headaches
  • Pain behind the eyes
  • Unexplained tooth pain
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Limited mouth opening
  • Locking jaw
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Clicking, popping or grating sounds in jaw joints
  • Ear pain,
  • Stuffiness or ringing in the ears

The TMJ connects the jaw bone to the skull. Muscles connect the jaw joint to the skull and allow you to chew, talk, sing and swallow.

You can fell the movement of the jaw joint by placing your fingers on your jaw joints. These are located just in front of your ears on both sides of your face. By opening and closing your mouth and you will be able to feel the action of the joints. The joints should move without any clicking or popping sounds when opening, closing or moving the jaw from side to side.

What are the causes of TMD?

Though the primary problem can be in the joints themselves, symptoms can arise from inflammation of the muscles of the face and jaw, or a combination of these. Muscle spasm and a displaced jaw joint can lead to chronic pain and discomfort.

Thus any problem which disrupts this complex system of muscles, bones and joints from working together in harmony may result in TMD.

Thus TMD can arise as a result of:

  • Disorders affecting sleep or sleep disordered breathing
  • Trauma (whiplash) or a blow to the face, or a fall.
  • Arthritis of the TMJ
  • Problems with your overall posture
  • A bad bite – This relates to your teeth meet and your bite. A “bad bite” prevents your upper and lower teeth from coming together in a way that provides the proper support for the jaw joint. This occurs when you have a missing tooth, misaligned teeth, or short back teeth. After a while a poor bite leads to the body compensating by involving muscles in other parts of the body such as: the neck, throat, upper back, arms and pelvis.
  • Stress – Some people unconsciously grind and/or clench their teeth when they are stressed and this can overwork the jaw joints, leading to pain and discomfort.
  • Muscle Spasm – Through the day and night the average person swallows about 2500 times. Each time you swallow the upper and lower teeth come together. When the bite is unstable, the muscles must work harder than normal and eventually the muscles feel tired and sore. This can result in a vicious cycle of increased tension, muscles spasm and pain.
  • Jaw Joint Displacement – When the jaw joints function properly, the bones do not actually touch because of a thin “disc” of cartilage that rides between them. The disc acts as a cushion and allows the joint to move smoothly. Each disc is held in place by ligaments and guided by muscles. If your bite is not meeting properly, the joint is pulled out of alignment. Since the disc no longer serves as a cushion, the joint itself now rubs against the bony socket and presses on pain fibres.  
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How is TMD treated?

At the dental gallery in Point Cook, we will work with you to develop an individualized treatment plan. You will be asked to complete a comprehensive health questionnaire, than undertake a thorough examination and further tests to determine the cause of TMD and develop a treatment plan.

As problems associated with the jaw joint can be progressive, an accurate and immediate diagnosis and treatment is crucial as early treatment will help avoid more damage and further deterioration.

You treatment may involve several phases depending upon your particular problem. These include:

  1. Initial diagnosis and appropriate treatment to address head, neck and facial pain
  2. Help you regain improved function
  3. Stabilization of your bite
  4. Appropriate referrals to allied health practitioners to help you attain better postural alignment and function.

In consultation with your medical and dental practitioner your treatment may involve a combination of the following:

  • Oral splint therapy
  • Low level laser therapy
  • Myofunctional therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Chiropractic
  • Relaxation therapy
  • Nutrition counselling

Usually a temporary, easy-to-wear splint (orthotic) of clear acrylic is made to fit over the top and bottom teeth until the bite stabilizes and the muscles are relaxed and out of spasm.  Permanent correction, if the stabilization is not maintained in the long term, may involve selective re-shaping of the teeth, building crowns (reconstructive), orthodontics or a permanent appliance.

Sometimes following treatment all that is required is wearing a splint at night. Though infrequent, surgery to correct a damaged joint is needed in about 3% of all TMD cases and you will be referred to a specialist for this. The goal of therapy is to provide conservative, non-surgical treatment to enable the teeth, muscles and joints to work together.

If you have any of the signs or symptoms mentioned, make an appointment to talk to our dentists at the dental gallery.