Many adults suffer from chronic facial pain. Some common symptoms include pain in or around the ear, tenderness of the jaw, clicking or popping noises when opening the mouth, or headaches and neck pain. Two joints and several jaw muscles make it possible to open and close the mouth. They work together when you chew, speak or swallow. They include muscles and ligaments, as well as the jaw bone–the mandible (lower jaw) with two joints called the temporomandibular joints or “TMJ.”
The TM joints are among the most complex joints in the body. Located on each side of the head, they work together to make many different movements, including a combination of rotating and gliding actions used when chewing and speaking. Any problem that prevents this complex system of muscles, ligaments, discs and bones from working properly may result in a painful TMJ disorder.
Diagnosis is an important step before treatment. Part of the dental examination includes checking the joints and muscles for tenderness, clicking, popping or difficulty moving. Your complete medical history may be reviewed, so it’s important to keep your dental office records up-to-date.
We may take x-rays and may make a “cast” of your teeth to see how the upper and lower teeth fit together. We may also request specialized x-rays for the TM joints.
There are several treatments for TMJ disorders. They may include stress-reducing exercises, wearing a mouth protector to prevent teeth grinding, orthodontic treatment, medication or surgery. Treatment may involve a series of steps beginning with the most conservative options. In many cases, only minor, relatively non-invasive treatment may be needed to help reduce the pain.