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Why You Shouldn’t Ignore TMJ Pain

Your temporomandibular joints, or TMJs, are important. They connect your jaw to your skull, and give you the ability to move your jawbone, which is necessary to eat and talk.  When something goes wrong with your TMJ you may develop a temporomandibular disorder, or a TMD.

You may not think of your dentist when you think about an issue with a joint, but the experts at Santa Monica Bay Dental are highly trained in treating TMJ disorders. We can help you understand why you’re experiencing the problem, can teach you exercises that may help, describe beneficial lifestyle changes, and even perform jaw surgery when necessary.

How your TMJ works

Although we think of joints as simply being places where bones are joined, they are not all the same. Consider, for instance, how your shoulder moves compared with how your knee moves. Your TMJ is different from either of those!

Your TMJ is a sliding ball and socket joint, with a bony bump called the articular eminence or AE, at the front of the socket that keeps your jaw in place. Your TMJ provides a surprising range of motion. Your jaw can move up and down, or side to side, and those movements are necessary to eat, talk, and even yawn.

All of the joints in your body have accompanying tissues and structures to keep them together, and your TMJ is no exception. Tendons, ligaments, muscles, and cartilage support and lubricate your TMJ. In many TMJ disorders, the problem is with one of those soft tissues.

Potential TMJ problems

Lots of things can go wrong with your TMJ. Your AE may not be positioned quite properly, allowing your jaw to go too far forward but not letting it move back into place. This is acute TMJ, and it makes it nearly impossible for you to close your mouth — and likely means you need to head to the emergency department.

Sometimes there are problems with the soft tissues that support your TMJ, such as arthritis. You may have had an accident that caused damage to those structures, creating a chronic TMJ disorder.

In some cases, you never learn exactly why you have a TMJ disorder. But not knowing the pathology of the problem doesn’t mean you should ignore it.

Symptoms of a TMJ disorder

TMJ disorder symptoms can seem misleading. Some are fairly obvious, like pain while chewing, but others, like headaches, aren’t always so clear. Some of the symptoms you should pay attention to include:

  • Tenderness around the joint, near your ear
  • A sensation of your TMJ locking, with your mouth open or closed
  • Pain in other parts of your face that don’t have an obvious cause
  • A clicking or grinding sound when you move your jaw
  • An ache in or near your ear

Without treatment, TMJ disorders can become chronic, and permanent damage to your joint can happen. This is why it’s so important to pay attention when you have these symptoms!

If you have noticed symptoms of a TMJ disorder, or you have questions about your risk, schedule an appointment at Santa Monica Bay Dental today. We’re happy to discuss your situation.