Why does my jaw hurt and how can my dentist help?

Why does my jaw hurt and how can my dentist help? 

TMD is one of the most common and underdiagnosed conditions in dentistry today. Experienced by a self-reported 30% of Canadians, the actual number of actual Canadians with TMDs is likely higher, as many people suffer from TMD without knowing, or without reporting it. Many who aren’t aware they have jaw tension become aware when they visit us for a checkup and we ask them to hold their jaws open while we clean and examine their teeth. The more we know about TMJ, the more equipped we are to address it together. 


What is the difference between TMJ and TMD? 

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects your jawbone to your skull, and is involved in the actions of chewing, swallowing, speaking, and yawning. TMJ disorder (TMD) occurs when you have a problem with the muscle, bone or other tissue in the area in and around the temporomandibular joint. 


Symptoms of TMDs

  • neck pain or headache
  • tension, discomfort or pain near the jaw joint, including in or around the temple, ears or face
  • a clicking, popping, crunching or grinding noise when you chew, yawn or open your mouth 
  • problems opening or closing your mouth


What causes jaw tension and TMJ disorder? 

We have seen a correlation between pandemic-related stress and TMD cases, but stress isn’t the only cause of jaw tension and discomfort. Your jaw is at the top of your spine, and many are surprised to hear that spinal issues and chronic tension or pain in the hips, back, shoulder, and neck can all show up in the jaw joint. TMJ disorders can also be caused by a misaligned jaw (overbite or underbite), trauma or injury to the jaw, arthritis, bruxism, or repetitive use that causes inflammation. 


Connection with bruxism and dental care

Many people who report TMJ discomfort show signs of wear and tear on their teeth from clenching or grinding. It is not known whether bruxism is a cause or an effect of TMDs. Regardless, the two are associated and often present together. Learn more about bruxism here.

Your dentist can help you find the best treatment for your TMD 

Because TMJ affects the jaw which is intricately connected with the teeth, there are some dental treatments that can help address misaligned jaw and bruxing to reduce discomfort and protect the teeth. For minor cases, we might suggest a dental appliance. Oral surgery such as arthroscopy, arthrocentesis or open joint surgery are options for cases of TMD with severe and consistent symptoms that were not resolved with a less invasive approach. During your next appointment, talk to your dental care team about TMD so we can assess the best solution for your individual case. 

Tips for TMD relief at home: 

  • Apply cold or warm compresses to your jaw
  • Practice gentle self-massage
  • Seek professional TMJ intraoral massage
  • Eat soft foods and cut food into small bites to make the work of chewing easie
  • Practice guided relaxation techniques to soften tension in your hips and jaw 
  • Do stretches and yoga to unlock the hips and low back, which are connected to jaw tension 

Bring your TMD questions to our downtown dental clinic in Saskatoon

If you think you might have a TMD, you’re probably right, and a professional dental service provider can confirm that for you. Preventive dentistry means education, taking exquisite care of your mouth and monitoring for changes to catch any potential problems early. Even if you haven’t noticed any TMD symptoms, your dentist screens for signs of bruxism during your regular dental exams, and will be able to identify any conditions in and around the mouth that are conducive to the development of a TMJ disorder.

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