How to Manage Jaw Pain from TMJ Syndrome

brunette woman in glasses struggling with headache
Author: cmcgovern Posted: February 25th, 2021 Category:

Are you suffering from TMJ syndrome? Here’s how to get relief from jaw pain.

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates 10 million Americans suffer from temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome, a persistent pain in the jaw. A hinge joint, the TMJ connects your jawbone to your skull. Because of this joint’s smooth sliding motion, you’re able to speak, sing, chew, and yawn. 

The TMJ is made up of cartilage-covered bones separated by a small shock-absorbing disc. Over time, the joint can degenerate due to arthritis that wears down the disc or cartilage. Or, the TMJ can be thrown out of alignment because of an injury or constant grinding of the teeth (a condition called bruxism). 

Whatever the cause, TMJ syndrome manifests as a painful and stiff jaw, dizziness, an earache, or a headache. When you move your jaw, you may hear a clicking or popping sound, as well. TMJ syndrome typically responds well to non-surgical treatments, although severe cases may require surgery.

Treating Pain from TMJ Syndrome

To diagnose and treat TMJ syndrome, you may need to see an oral and maxillofacial specialist, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor), or a dentist who specializes in jaw disorders. To confirm a TMJ syndrome diagnosis, the doctor may conduct a physical examination and manipulate the jaw to find the pain point. He or she may also order an imaging test such as an X-ray, CAT scan, or MRI to get a closer look at the jaw bone and soft tissues.

Treatment for TMJ syndrome centers primarily on managing the pain with non-surgical therapies. Some remedies your dentist may suggest include:

  • Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin, and naproxen). 
  • Muscle relaxants or medications used to treat depression, which may reduce pain and control bruxism.
  • Hot and cold compresses applied to the jaw.
  • Physical therapy to stretch and strengthen the jaw muscles and increase range of motion.
  • A specially-made dental splint or mouth guard to keep your teeth and jaw in alignment and prevent grinding.
  • A corticosteroid injection into the joint.

Other lifestyle adjustments have proven helpful in managing TMJ syndrome. Slowly chewing your food, eating softer foods in smaller bites, and avoiding chewing gum can help relieve pressure on the jaw. You might also benefit from learning relaxation techniques to loosen tight muscles. Since people with bruxism are at greater risk of TMJ syndrome, treating that condition may prevent joint damage and pain. 

Unless non-surgical methods fail to reduce pain, surgery is rarely performed for TMJ syndrome. One technique your dentist may recommend is an occlusal adjustment. In this procedure, the biting areas of your teeth are smoothed so the teeth aren’t bumping against each other when they meet. This can lighten the force placed on the teeth and lessen pain.

One surgical option is arthrocentesis. This minimally invasive procedure involves small needles inserted into the joint. Fluid is then used to swish away any debris that may be irritating the area. Arthroscopic surgery has also been successfully used to relieve TMJ pain.

Don’t Live with Jaw Pain

A painful jaw can greatly interfere with your quality of life. Instead of ignoring the pain, get help today.

The specialists at Espire Dental will thoroughly review your oral health and recommend treatment options to ensure you live pain-free. We also offer a full spectrum of convenient dental services. Contact us today for a consultation.