Elmhurst Dentist Explains the Symptoms and Causes of TMJ

Written by Dr. Scharfenberg on Jun 25, 2012

Elmhurst Dentist Explains the Symptoms and Causes of TMJ

Every year our Elmhurst TMJ dentists effectively diagnose and treat the painful symptoms of TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorder. The amazing thing is that many of our patients do not come in to our office knowing that they are suffering from TMJ dysfunction. Too often we find that our patients have been needlessly living with the painful symptoms of TMJ, because they couldn’t identify why they were having pain, discomfort, and headaches. By being aware of TMJ dysfunction, and understanding how it is manifested, you can take your health and wellbeing into your own hands and notify your dentist if you think you may be suffering from TMJ disorder.

What is the Temporomandibular Joint?

The temporomandibular joint is essentially the hinge that connects the lower jaw joint to the skull. You have a joint on the right and left side of your skull—they work together to allow you to speak, chew, and move your jaw from side to side. The articular disc of the temporamandibular joint is made of fibrocartilagenous tissue, which allows your jaw to move rotationally and translationally. This joint is vital to performing a number of tasks in daily life—when moving your jaw becomes painful or in some cases difficult, you may have trouble speaking, yawning, and chewing.

What Causes TMJ Dysfunction?

TMJ disorders result when dysfunction of the muscles, tissues, tendons, or ligaments surrounding this joint restricts the movement of the jaw or causes pain. TMJ dysfunction can result from arthritis, injury or trauma, joint dislocations, and neoplasia. Painful symptoms are often exacerbated by stress, which causes excessive tension in the jaw and teeth grinding.

TMJ dysfunction can cause jaw pain/tenderness, headaches, dizziness, teeth grinding, jaw popping/clicking, and restricted jaw mobility. In certain cases, it could even become difficult to speak and open your jaw all the way. These symptoms are serious—it is important to treat the root cause of TMJ disorder, rather than simply treating the superficial symptoms.

What Happens If I Ignore TMJ Problems?

Waiting for TMJ symptoms to go away by themselves is not an effective mode of treatment. Self-treatment measures such as using ice packs to reduce swelling and anti-inflammatory medication to relieve pressure in the jaw may work in the short term, but ultimately you are simply masking a deeper, increasingly serious problem. If you don’t address TMJ disorder with a medical professional you may experience worsening symptoms such as increased and sustained pain in the jaw, neck, head, back, or mouth. Furthermore, untreated TMJ disorder can progress—ultimately limiting your mobility and consequently your ability to perform simple tasks such as speaking, smiling, and eating. Chronic TMJ problems can also wreak havoc on your teeth. Consistent jaw tension, combined with teeth grinding, can weaken your enamel and wear your teeth down prematurely.

A good TMJ dentist will be able to recognize TMJ problems and formulate a treatment plan to increase your comfort and dental prognosis. You can help yourself stay well and pain-free by staying on the lookout for these TMJ symptoms. Many patients ignore mysterious jaw pain or frequent headaches, because they believe these are “normal” things that happen to people when they are “stressed out.” However, many patients are experiencing these problems because they are actually suffering from TMJ disorder. The sooner you identify these symptoms for a health professional, the easier the condition is to treat. As always, if you are interested in learning more about TMJ disorder or you’d like to discuss your options with our Elmhurst TMJ dentists, please give us a call at (630) 733-1624.