What to Know About TMJ Pain

woman suffering from TMJ pain

Feeling tight-lipped these days due to a painful jawline?
It could be a symptom of TMJ disorder

If it hurts to open and close your mouth, you might be experiencing TMJ Pain. Below is our guide to understanding your symptoms and how a chiropractor can help.

What Does TMJ Stand For?

TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. Located in front of the ear and comprised of muscles, blood vessels, nerves, and bones, it is the part of the body that connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the skull. Humans have two TMJs – one on either side of the jaw. These two joints are the only two joints in the body that are detached from one another but must work simultaneously and harmoniously to achieve their purpose: opening and closing the mouth to talk, chew, and yawn.

Along with the TMJ, there are certain facial muscles attached to the lower jaw as well, which control chewing. The TMJ rotates and hinges, and also glides. Due to the intricacy of this part of the human body, and how often the TMJ is used, problems in this area are common and affect millions of people.

What Is TMJ Pain?

Problems with one or both of your TMJs will present themselves in a myriad of ways including pain (TMJ pain) as well as popping, clicking or locking jaw, head and neck pain, facial pain, ear pain, and problems biting food.

TMJ pain refers to any degree of pain felt in the TMJ joint. If the cause of the pain is persistent, goes untreated, or is due to an issue with the TMJ itself, the terms “TMJ syndrome”, “TMJ disorder”, or “TMJ dysfunction” are used by health care practitioners, and TMJ pain becomes a symptom of these conditions. TMJ pain ranges from mild to severe. It can be temporary, constant, or occur sporadically. Because of the TMJ’s proximity to the ear and mouth, TMJ pain can sometimes be confused for an earache or toothache.

Symptoms of TMJ Disorder

chiropractor for TMJ pain in Victoria BC

A TMJ disorder can manifest itself in a number of ways:

  • Pain in the jaw
  • Pain in the neck or face
  • Lockjaw
  • Clicking or popping of the jaw
  • Headaches
  • Toothaches
  • Struggling to open or close your mouth
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Ringing in the ear
  • Hearing loss
  • Ear pain
  • Swelling of the affected area

Causes of TMJ Pain and Disorders

There are many reasons why you might be experiencing TMJ pain. Two of the most common things that lead to TMJ pain, and inevitably TMJ disorder, is clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth in your sleep (bruxism). Whenever the jaw muscles are overworked, or there is too much pressure put on the joint, pain often follows.

TMJ pain can also be a symptom of:

  • Pinched nerves in the neck
  • A dislocated disc
  • Dental work that has led to ill-fitting dental fillings, crowns, or dentures, which has caused an uneven bite
  • Trauma to the mouth, such as a sporting injury or car accident
  • Hereditary issues / bone deformity at birth
  • Infection
  • Diseases such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, or fibromyalgia
  • Cancer

Relieving TMJ Pain

There are several options for relieving and treating TMJ pain, depending on its severity and cause. Acute TMJ pain (temporary pain brought on by an injury or related surgery) lasts anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Chronic TMJ pain (caused by other issues like chronic grinding or clenching of the teeth) can persist for months or years at a time, and can alternate between sharp and dull periods of pain.

For either type of TMJ pain, at-home remedies such  a temporary soft-food diet, warm compresses, ice packs, jaw exercises, and mild massage are all helpful.  It will also be beneficial to call in the help of a chiropractor for further pain relief and to look into the underlying cause of the TMJ issue.

Isn’t the Dentist all I need for TMJ Pain?

A dentist is more often than not a person’s go-to medical professional for when they are experiencing pain in their jaw due to the pain often feeling localized in the mouth. In a lot of cases, TMJ pain is a direct result of grinding teeth or dental surgery, so dentists definitely play a role in diagnosing and treating many cases of TMJ pain and disorders. For this reason, your chiropractor will consult with your dentist when necessary to make sure any chiropractic treatments they do are suitable.

The Benefits of Chiropractic Care for TMJ Issues

While pain in the facial muscles and TMJ may travel to the neck or shoulders, this isn’t the only reason why people suffering from TMJ seek out chiropractic care.

If you’re suffering from TMJ pain – and your dentist has ruled out bruxism and other dental issues, such as a side effect of oral surgery – seeing a chiropractor can help you determine the source of the pain while also treating your symptoms.

In many cases, chiropractors help patients avoid invasive surgery and strong painkillers using other techniques instead.

Types of Chiropractic Treatments for TMJ Issues

During your visit, your chiropractor will begin by doing an overall wellness exam and assessing the cause of your TMJ pain by asking a series of questions. Chiropractic treatments that may follow could be a combination of the following, either carried out on both sides of the jaw simultaneously, or just the affected side.

  • Gentle, manual chiropractic adjustments that can stimulate movement of the joint
  • Myofascial release to relax muscles and soft tissue
  • Active release therapy to break up and release any adhesions (scar tissue)
  • Massage of the facial muscles, including the temporalis muscles in the temples
  • Assessment of your posture and recommendations for corrections
  • Prescribing a series of short stretches for the neck and face
  • Suggesting things you can do to prevent TMJ pain from occurring in the future (ergonomic adjustments and self-care to reduce stress, for example)

Are Chiropractic Treatments for TMJ Painful?

The idea of chiropractic treatment of TMJ may seem intense, but the treatments described above are gentle and can relieve a lot of pain. As with many chiropractic treatments, patients often experience immediate results as they work to restore normal joint biomechanical function in the TMJ.

Thinking about seeing a chiropractor for your TMJ pain? Dr. Stephanie Louie at Mind Body Spine is a Victoria, BC chiropractor with advanced training in treating TMJ disorders. Call Mind Body Spine at 250-885-2320 to book a time to come and see Dr. Louie.

Click to learn how Dr Stephanie Louie can help with disc problems

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