On both sides of your face, your jaw connects to the rest of the skull with the help of the powerful temporomandibular joint. That’s a mouthful, so most people simply call it the TMJ. You need your TMJ to give you a strong bite strength and to move your lower jaw in different directions for clear speech. Unfortunately, the joint is at risk of soreness, tightness, and overall wear when you develop a habit of clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth. The majority of people who experience these issues repeat them at night, making it hard to consciously control the action. Seeking out the right TMJ treatment from your dentist can solve pain problems and prevent long-term damage from occurring to this important joint.

Symptoms of TMJ Issues

One of the most common symptoms of a jaw problem is the classic TMJ headache. This pain usually begins around the temples, jaw sides, or ears. If you’ve ruled out issues with blood pressure and your ear’s drainage, the headaches are most likely due to stress on the TMJ. Other common symptoms of issues with this part of the jaw include:

  • Tenderness where the jaw joins the rest of the face
  • Tightness when opening the mouth or difficulty chewing
  • Clicking and other audible sounds when opening and shutting the jaw
  • Aching around the ear, temple, and jaw area
  • A locked jaw that doesn’t want to open or close without a lot of effort
  • Grating sensations in the corners of the jaw when moving it
  • Sensitivity in the teeth or visible signs of enamel erosion
  • Damage to the teeth like chipping and cracking.

What Causes TMJ Pain?

The main cause of pain and tightness in the TMJ is tooth grinding, also known as bruxism. This is a condition that largely occurs in response to high stress levels. Injuries to the jaw can also set off TMJ issues that may take months to heal, even with proper care. Other cases of TMJ pain have no specific cause, yet they still respond to the same general treatments. Your dentist or doctor may even discover signs of arthritis in the jaw joints leading to your TMJ issues. Only a thorough dental checkup can determine what’s causing your jaw issues and lead you the right treatments.

TMJ Treatment Options

Treatments vary depending on the cause and the severity of the damage to the joints. In cases where tooth grinding has gone on for years or there was a severe injury, the TMJ may be fully out of alignment or has damaged cartilage. In these cases, surgery may be the best option. Almost everyone else will simply need a much less invasive treatment like a night guard to control the effects of tooth grinding. Injections of Botox can create almost immediate jaw muscle pain relief, lasting for weeks to months before needing replenishment. Basic exercises to stretch the jaw muscles and reduce tension do more than you might expect as well. Your dentist may have other options for you to explore, including anti-anxiety or insomnia treatments to help reduce your overall stress levels.

Finding a TMJ Specialist

Getting long-term TMJ relief begins with finding a specialist in the condition. This can be a dentist with extra training in the care of jaw disorders or a doctor that focuses on the head and jaw. While any dentist can let you know that you’re showing signs of tooth grinding or jaw clenching, not all of them can prepare custom night guards or provide pain-relieving injections. Make sure you’re seeking out a TMJ specialist from the start to spend less time trying out treatments that may or may not work.

Take care of your TMJ problems so your jaw can take care of you. Restore a comfortable chewing experience so you don’t limit your diet, and solve stubborn headaches caused by tooth grinding. Your dentist can give you a custom treatment plan along with recommendations to reduce the stress that’s often behind TMJ pain.