TMJ jaw pain causes and treatment are discussed by TMJ specialist Dr. James Jacobs of Pacific Oral Surgery. If you have a TMJ disorder such as persistent jaw pain or tenderness and/or can’t open and close your jaw completely, it is important that you seek medical attention from a TMJ specialist to prevent further damage to your temporomandibular joint.
Temporomandibular Joint Pain – TMJ Jaw Pain Causes and Treatment
The causes of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders are not always known due to their often complex nature, however, many variables can directly and indirectly contribute to jaw pain and the development of temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ, TMD). In most cases, TMJ disorders are related to stress, traumatic injury, or damage to the jaw joint which hinders the jaw structures from functioning smoothly and pain-free. TMJ disorders can result from activities or conditions that damage the jaw joint over time, acute injuries that happen suddenly, or a congenital defect (present at birth).
Causes or contributors to TMJ Jaw Pain include:
- Chronic teeth grinding (bruxism) and stress
- Misaligned or missing teeth
- Disc dislocation, displacement, or erosion
- Infection/disease/bone deformities
- Arthritis/wear and tear
TMJ Jaw Pain can be caused by a single condition or incident or a combination of factors that together cause damage to the jaw joint and subsequent pain.
TMJ disorders are typically classified into categories based on what factors are present and where the pain is located:
- Myofascial pain: Affects the muscles surrounding the jaw joint
- Inflammatory joint disease: Degenerative condition, such as arthritis, affecting the joint
- Internal joint derangement: Involves injury, dislocation, or displaced disc
These TMJ conditions can be present simultaneously, causing multiple symptoms and contributing to its complexity.
TMJ Jaw Pain Caused by Injuries or Trauma
Injury or trauma to the temporomandibular joint, jaw, or head/neck muscles can often be a more straightforward means of diagnosing a TMJ disorder, especially if symptoms present shortly after a traumatic event.
A sharp, jarring blow or whiplash can:
- Fracture the jaw bone
- Damage cartilage disc
- Dislocate the temporomandibular joint
- Injure the nerves, ligaments, or muscles around the jaw, face, or neck
Common causes of traumatic injury to the TMJ include:
- Vehicular accident
- Punch or blow to the face
- Contact sports injury
- Amusement park rides (such as roller coasters) or other momentum changing activities that can cause whiplash
A TMJ disorder article in the Journal of American Dental Association found that most TMJ disorders are caused by an unexpected injury. If you are involved in an accident or incur a blow to the head or jaw and experience TMJ disorder symptoms, contact your doctor for an evaluation. Symptoms of and treatment for a TMJ disorder caused by traumatic injury can vary widely depending on the type and severity of injury.
TMJ Pain from Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)
Teeth grinding, also called bruxism, can be a significant contributor to TMJ disorders. Teeth grinding, especially during sleep, can place up to 600 pounds of pressure per square inch on the teeth, and subsequently the jaw. (Normal pressure when eating is 30-50 pounds per square inch.)
This intense pressure placed on the temporomandibular joint can lead to:
- Chronic TMJ inflammation and pain
- Anterior and/or posterior disc displacement or dislocation
- Muscle spasms
- Teeth misalignment (which can worsen TMJ disorders)
Stress that involves clenching of the jaw can lead to temporomandibular tension. Continual tightening of the muscles surrounding the jaw can result in inflammation of the joint membranes, as well as myofascial pain. Even performing strenuous tasks, such as heavy lifting, can aggravate or contribute to a TMJ disorder if the jaw muscles are overworked due to being clenched repeatedly.
TMJ Pain from Malocclusion (Bad Bite) Affecting
Misaligned or missing teeth can cause upper and lower teeth to come together in such a way that the temporomandibular joint is affected. When the teeth do not line up properly, normal jaw motions can create stress on the muscles, nerves, and tendons that surround the joints of the jaw.
Misaligned or missing teeth can affect jaw placement thus disrupting the relationship between the bite and the jaw muscles. In addition, the extra pressure placed on the teeth and jaw can result in a build-up of bony projections or cause a dissolving of the bone. Orthodontic treatment can alleviate symptoms in most cases, unless permanent damage to the jaw joint has occurred.
TMJ Pain from Displacement or Dislocation
The temporomandibular joint is a ball-and-socket joint and as such, can become displaced or dislocated. The ball (condyle) of the TMJ normally moves forward when the mouth is opened and slides back into place upon closing the mouth. If the condyle of the TMJ moves too far forward, it can become stuck, especially if the ligaments surrounding the jaw joint are loose or stretched. Jaw muscles can spasm and keep the condyle in the displaced position.
Dislocated temporomandibular joints often produce a cracking or popping noise when opening or closing the jaw, and can affect movement and strain the muscles surrounding the jaw, neck, and face. In some cases, the jaw can become locked in place, preventing the mouth from closing.
Moving the jaw joint back into position may require a medical procedure involving:
- Relaxation of jaw muscles by injecting local anesthesia
- Intravenous muscle relaxant medication to stop spasms
- Moving/guiding the condyle back into its socket
If loose ligaments are a factor, the jaw joint dislocation can recur periodically. Occasionally, especially if dislocation is recurrent, surgical intervention is required.
TMJ Pain from Disease or Deformity of the Temporomandibular Joint
Some temporomandibular disorders are caused by medical conditions or bone deformities which may be present at birth or diseases that develop or progress over time (such as oral cancer). TMJ disorders can result as a complication of a specific condition, such as Parkinson’s Disease or Huntington Disease. Treatment of TMJ disorders involving disease will depend on the type of symptoms that present and the severity of the disease or condition contributing the TMJ pain. Bone deformity can typically be corrected with orthognathic surgery.
At Pacific Oral Surgery, our Oral and Maxillofacial surgeons treat all manners of TMJ disorders to alleviate jaw pain and restore jaw functionality. If you are experiencing symptoms of TMJ jaw pain, please contact our office for an evaluation.
To arrange a consultation with a doctor at Pacific Oral Surgery, please submit an online appointment request or call one of our Pacific Oral Surgery offices located in Ventura, Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley.
Our team of oral, maxillofacial and dental implant surgeons, Dr. James Jacobs, Dr. John Webb, and Dr. Sebastian Carlson, welcomes you to our Pacific Oral Surgery practice.