Jaw pain is a fairly common condition that millions of Americans deal with on a regular basis. It is a little easier to treat if the cause of your pain was from an acute trauma, like getting hit in the face by a baseball or hitting the ground when you fall of your bike, but that’s not the only way jaw pain develops. Other times, problems with the joints and muscles are to blame, and diagnosing and treating these injuries are a little trickier. We take a closer look at jaw joint pain in today’s blog.
Causes and Symptoms of Jaw Joint Pain
Your jaw joints, also known as temporomandibular joints, help to facilitate the opening and closing of your jaw. These joints are located on each side of your head, and they work together with muscles and ligaments in the area to help you speak, swallow and chew. If one of these structures is damaged or functions improperly, one of the most common side effects is pain. But what can cause problems with these joints and structures? Common causes of TMJ pain include:
- Jaw arthritis
- Tooth and jaw misalignment
- Teeth grinding or overstressing the joint
As we mentioned above, pain is the most common symptom, but it may also be accompanied by tenderness, clicking, a popping sound or difficulty moving the jaw.
Diagnosing and Treating Jaw Pain
If you are dealing with jaw pain, make an appointment with your dentist or your primary care physician. The diagnostic process will include listening to your symptoms, a physical exam to look for signs of joint problems, and potential imaging exams to pinpoint the exact problem. One of the biggest hurdles in treating jaw pain is an accurate diagnosis, because if you’re not treating the underlying problem, you’re unlikely to find relief, so a comprehensive exam by a specialist is important.
Treatment of jaw joint problems will depend on the root cause of your pain. For some individuals, lifestyle modifications of eating softer foods, avoiding chewing gum, heat pack application and practicing jaw relaxation techniques will be the only treatment options necessary. For others with more serious joint issues, physical therapy or jaw strengthening exercises may help to prevent problems caused by arthritis, while muscle relaxants or mouthguards can protect against teeth grinding at night.
In rare cases, your dentist may recommend a dental operation to correct the issue. These can range from adjusting an uneven bite to reshaping your teeth, depending on what is necessary. Your dentist can explain the operations as well as any other treatment modalities should a dental procedure be necessary.