I am in my late twenties and have been experiencing a great amount of pain in my jaw. I have been trying to research on my own and am worried I may have TMJ, as it appears that I have many of the symptoms associated with it. I am nervous that, if this is the case, I will have to have a portion of my jaw removed, or need significant reconstructive work done on my teeth. I am terrified to have consult a dentist, as I don’t want to have surgery. Is this the only option, or is there medication that can help and prolong the surgery, if I do, in fact, have TMJ?
A painful jaw is not necessarily indicative of TMJ. However, it is important that you understand what TMJ is and what the recommended treatment plan is, in order for you to better understand the condition.
TMJ refers to the temporomandibular joint. You have two of these joints, one of each side of your jaw. When an abnormality exists in one of the joints, it is called temporomandibular disorder, or TMD. This sounds more aligned with what you are describing, not TMJ. The joint is quite intricate. There is the bone joint, a disc between the ball and the socket, which provides cushioning when you move your jaw, and several muscles and ligaments, which provide guidance and control movement when you talk or chew. Therefore, many different areas can be impacted with TMD, as well as various causes of TMD. A severe case of this condition would cause the disc to wear down, which would be incredibly painful. However, this is quite rare due to the fact that people aren’t as hard on their jaws as they may be with other joints of their bodies. Age is also a factor, as this is seen in older and elderly patients, not typically someone in their twenties, unless there is another underlying condition. This is also the case with your jaw. Typically, a person shouldn’t experience issues with the internal workings of their jaw unless they’re older, have a medical issue, or have experienced something traumatic. This can be compared to the condition called “tennis elbow” in which the tendons of your arm are irritated due to repetitive motions. Normal, everyday, motions such as chewing will not cause TMD, but grinding or clenching of your teeth during stress or sleeping can most definitely cause jaw irritation. There are also other, more mechanical, issues which could impact the jaw. Perhaps the teeth aren’t aligning well, or your bite is incorrect. These can also cause the jaw to be irritated.
These are just a few of the many issues which can cause pain in the jaw. There are many causes, and many treatments which can address the causes and correct the damage. You’ll most definitely want to address the pain as soon as possible. Addressing it early on will allow the treatment to be less invasive than prolonging it. For example, if you are a person who grinds your teeth, you could wear a nightguard, which will help your jaw quickly. Or, if there are alignment issues, oral devices can help correct the problem without the need for surgery.
There are more detailed procedures for more severe cases, but it doesn’t seem like you’re to that point. However, you should consult a TMJ dentist as soon as possible. A dentist with special TMJ training will initiate the treatment with the least-invasive treatment possible, then gradually move into the other options if those aren’t working. Be sure to have the pain looked into soon.
This blog post was provided by Colorado Springs TMJ dentist, Dr. Joseph Rota.