Getting Help for TMJ and Jaw Pain

We often treat patients at First Class Smiles who are suffering from TMJ sounds, TMJ locking, and pain in their TMJ or the surrounding areas. Although there are several possible explanations for this, one of the most common causes is temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD, and getting help for TMJ and jaw pain is easy when you visit our Des Plaines office!

TMD is a bit of a broad term, and we use it to describe the jaw pain, crackling sounds, and dysfunction that can happen when the muscles and joints of the jaw are malfunctioning in some way. These areas are complex and full of nerve endings, so when something is even slightly off, it can result in symptoms that range from mild to acute. Symptoms may include pain, tenderness, TMJ sounds/locking swelling, or problems with chewing properly.

If you’ve had any experience with some of the symptoms that can be associated with TMD, you may be wondering what this disorder actually is, and if there are any ways that it can be treated successfully. Keep reading for a closer look at these questions!

What’s TMJ? Is it the same thing as TMD?

Many people, including professionals, use these two abbreviations interchangeably. They’re not actually the same thing, however. TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint, the hinge points that connect our jaw bones to our head. This incredibly mobile joint is located directly in front of the ears, and is able to rotate, glide, and act as a powerful hinge simultaneously. This mobility is what gives us the ability to do things like speak and chew our food properly. 

The TMJ is also surrounded by a number of complex protectors like tendons, muscles, and joint pads. Most of the time, these components get along just fine, but if they get thrown off course for any reason, it can lead to symptoms like pain, popping, and inflammation. That’s where TMD enters the picture!

Common signs and symptoms of TMD

The TMJ is used so often that symptoms of TMD can be wide and varied. That means every case will be different, with some people only experiencing issues with one side of their face, while others may have problems with both sides. Some patients have mild symptoms that show up every once in a while, while others struggle with more serious problems that can take years to fully resolve. 

The most common signs of TMD generally include:

  • pain or tenderness in the face, jaw joint, neck, or shoulders
  • pain in or around the ear when chewing or speaking
  • difficulty opening the mouth wide
  • jaws that get stuck or locked in an open or closed mouth position
  • popping or other noise in the jaw joint when you open or close your mouth
  • popping or other noise in the jaw when chewing
  • a “tired” feeling in the face
  • difficulty chewing
  • feeling as though your upper and lower teeth don’t fit together properly
  • swelling on the side of your face
  • ringing or stuffy ears
  • migraines or headaches

As we noted above, there are other issues that can cause these kinds of symptoms, such as tooth decay, gum disease, and even medical conditions like arthritis. That’s one reason it’s so important to receive a proper diagnosis and the appropriate treatment from an experienced provider like Dr. Grandinetti and Dr. Morrison. 

Getting Help for TMJ and Jaw Pain

What can cause TMD?

Injuries to your jaw, TMJ, or the muscles of your head and neck are some of the more obvious causes of TMD.  Symptoms can also originate with problems in the muscles of your jaw or from within the joint itself. There are other factors that may contribute as well, including:

  • Grinding or clenching your teeth, as this puts extra pressure on the joint
  • Displacement of the disk between the lower jaw and socket
  • Arthritis in the TMJ
  • Stress, which can tighten your facial and jaw muscles, or cause you to clench the teeth

Females have a much higher risk of developing TMD issues.  The exact reasons are not fully understood but may be related to hormones and biochemical changes within the TMJ.

If there are any untreated problems with your bite, or if you have a misaligned jaw, it can also put undue stress on the more sensitive parts of your TMJ. This can lead to chronic shooting pain that may be felt in your face, neck, shoulders, back, and arms.

How is TMD diagnosed?

Our team takes advantage of the latest in dental and orthodontic technology to pinpoint the source of your TMD. Our doctors use multiple methods to accurately diagnose TMD issues such as:

  • measuring aspects of the teeth and jaw
  • determining the jaw’s proper resting position
  • mapping the movement of the jaw during speaking and eating

Once we’ve determined the source of your TMD and given you a proper diagnosis, Dr. Grandinetti and Dr. Morrison will be able to create a customized treatment plan for you that’s based on your own unique needs.

What are the treatment options for TMD?

The good news is that many people who have TMD experience minor symptoms that will generally resolve on their own within a few weeks or months. During this time, symptoms can often be eased by:

  • eating softer foods
  • applying ice or moist heat to the affected area
  • avoiding extreme jaw movements like wide yawning
  • taking smaller bites of food
  • alternating chewing on each side of your mouth
  • exploring gentle stress-relief techniques

At First Class Smiles, we prefer to use conservative and reversible treatments for TMD whenever possible. These non-invasive treatments will not cause any permanent changes to the structure or position of the jaw or teeth. Even patients who have more persistent TMD symptoms won’t need aggressive treatment most of the time.

One example of this type of conservative treatment is a night guard, sometimes called an occlusal guard. These custom-made mouthguards are worn over your teeth in order to protect them from damage caused by clenching or grinding. A night guard creates a physical barrier between your upper and lower teeth, you end up biting against the guard rather than wearing down your own teeth, something that can cause or increase TMD symptoms. Night guards may also help correct your overall bite by putting the teeth in a more desirable position.

If you need your bite corrected in order to minimize or eliminate TMD symptoms, Dr. Grandinetti and Dr. Morrison may recommend orthodontic treatment like braces or clear aligner therapy with Invisalign.
Getting Help for TMJ and Jaw Pain

Let the expert team at First Class Smiles treat your TMD symptoms 

Untreated TMD can lead to inflammation, swelling, or chronic pain. Over time, it can also contribute to progressive dental problems, such as premature tooth wear and periodontal disease. 

If you’ve been experiencing any symptoms of TMD, we encourage you to schedule your free consultation with Dr. Grandinetti and Dr. Morrison! When it comes to getting high-quality help for TMJ and jaw pain in Des Plaines, First Class Smiles simply can’t be beat, so get in touch today! Call our office at (847)824-3536, or schedule online!