Chronic jaw pain isn’t as common as tooth discomfort, but it’s common enough to be a serious, chronic problem for millions of patients. However, unlike toothaches, the specific cause of persistent TMJ pain isn’t always clear, and therefore, you might not immediately know how best to treat it. Fortunately, your dentist does! A thorough examination will reveal the exact cause of your condition. It is often caused by issues with your temporomandibular joint (or “TMJ”). Your doctor can help you find a custom-designed treatment plan to find permanent relief.
Are you suffering from chronic jaw pain? Is it negatively affecting your quality of life? Don’t put off treatment. Dr. James Fondriest is the area’s leading expert on treating face pain and related TMD issues. Call our Lake Forest practice today to schedule your consultation with him. He can help determine the cause of your pain and provide treatments to reduce or eliminate symptoms. Reach a member of our staff today at 847-234-0517.
What causes TMJ pain?
Chronic jaw pain ban be caused by a number of issues. An injury to the chin, jaw, or TMJ itself can stretch or tear the ligaments supporting the joint. Missing back teeth and/or poor alignment of the jaws or of the teeth wisdom teeth, bruxism (nighttime teeth grinding), chronic clenching, arthritis, stressful situations, or poor dental treatment that does not respect how the teeth come together.
Another cause of face discomfort could be an infected or abscessed tooth. When infection develops deep within a tooth root, dull, aching or throbbing may be felt below the gum’s surface and radiate outwards to the rest of the jaw. Other times, infected or abscessed teeth may produce sharp pains.
An examination and X-rays from Dr. Fondriest can narrow down the source of your face discomfort.
However, the most common epicenter of chronic jaw pain is one or both of your TMJs, or temporomandibular joints. These joints are where your lower jaw connects to the temporal area of your skull, and where they open, close, and move as needed. While they’re typically highly resilient, TMJs can often become damaged or inflamed due to excessive pressure or injury. When this happens, you may experience pain that makes it increasingly more difficult to bite and chew comfortably. TMD (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder) is a condition of chronic pain and discomfort in the TMJs that can decrease the quality of life for afflicted patients.
What are the symptoms of TMJ?
Could you have TMJ? Most patients with this disorder are between the ages of 20 and 40, and many estimates show somewhere between 10 to 35 million Americans may suffer from chronic TMJ pain symptoms. Could you be one of the millions suffering from TMD? Below are the most common symptoms associated with the disorder:
- Tender cheeks, jaw, forehead, and temples. Often symptoms may worsen when pressure is directly applied to the area or when biting or chewing.
- Frequent tension-type headaches or migraines. These may be worse or only occur in the morning.
- Stiff neck and shoulders. Sore, tired muscles in the neck and shoulders, with no obvious explanation, could be a sign of TMD.
- Signs of bruxism (teeth grinding and clenching)
- Chronic jaw pain. The type of pain could differ from day to day. Many patients may experience dull, aching pain.
- Malocclusion (misalignment). A “bad bite” can exacerbate TMD or be the underlying cause if the jaw cannot rest in proper alignment.
- Pain when chewing
- Facial muscle fatigue. Many patients describe a feeling of “tiredness” in the face or jaw.
- Jaw joint locking or clicking
Signs of bruxism include:
- Worn or flattened teeth
- Migraines or headaches that are worse in the morning
- Teeth sensitivity or pain
- Muscle stiffness or fatigue in the jaw and face
- It becomes difficult to fully open or close your mouth
What can I do about chronic jaw pain?
If your jaw hurts, then you may find temporary relief with remedies like an ice pack, an over-the-counter pain reliever, or a gentle massage to your TMJs. However, if you have TMJ disorder, then the only way to actually relieve it is to have your dentist diagnose and treat it professionally. A thorough examination will help your dentist pinpoint the exact nature of your disorder, and then design that most appropriate way to correct it.
When evidence of bruxism is shown, tooth grinding and clenching may be greatly contributing to facial pain.
Bruxism, or teeth grinding and clenching, often happens at night during sleep. This unconscious grinding is usually brought on by stress or anxiety during the day. While unconscious, the teeth grinding and clenching can be much more powerful than any that takes place while awake.
Night Guards help manage the tension headaches
Often, a mouth guard or other oral appliance can help with nighttime bruxism. Dr. Fondriest can specially fit you for a custom night guard or protective device to prevent your teeth from coming together during the night. By reducing the amount of pressure exerted through tooth grinding and clenching, the TMJ and connected structures can experience less stress and pressure along with reduced muscle inflammation.
It is this muscle inflammation that causes tension headaches. Wearing a night guard limits how hard the muscles work. Less work means less lactic acid buildup and fewer headaches. For many patients, this helps to reduce chronic jaw pain symptoms.
Sometimes dentistry is needed to fix the bite
For other patients, more extensive treatments such as bruxism veneers may be needed to treat underlying causes of pain in the mouth and jaw. Dr. Fondriest has years of experience helping patients find relief from facial discomfort, and can help to find the source of your pain.
Ask Your Dentist About Treating Chronic Jaw Pain
When your jaw hurts consistently, the best way to treat it may be to address your underlying TMJ disorder.
Dr. Fondriest has had extensive training in TMJ therapy at the world-renowned L. D. Pankey Institute. He is currently active as a senior faculty member there. The Pankey Institute specializes in the study of occlusion (bite) and treatment of TMD symptoms and TMJ disorders. It is considered by many to be the world’s leader in research and treatment of TMJ disorders. To learn more or to schedule a consultation with Lake Forest’s leading TMJ expert, call us at 847-234-0517. We also proudly serve residents of the greater Chicago area and the United States.