5 Common Causes of Jaw Pain and How Neuromuscular Dentistry Can Help
Seeking answers for your jaw pain.
Laughing, smiling, and chewing are natural, simple motions that most people perform without even thinking about it. If you’re struggling with jaw pain, however, carrying out these once-simple tasks can be difficult and painful. It can even make it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep at night, leaving you exhausted no matter how early you try to get to bed.
Constant, chronic pain like this can be overwhelming, especially when you don’t know what’s causing it and can’t avoid activities that cause you the most pain. After all, you can’t just stop eating because your jaw hurts! When you’re dealing with this, it’s understandable to find yourself asking, “Why do I have jaw pain?”
Well, this is the right question to ask—and your dentist can help you answer it! Your jaw pain could be a sign that you’re struggling with an issue called temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD. TMD is an umbrella term for any issue with the joints, muscles, tendons, or ligaments of your jaw that impacts its function and causes pain.
We’ve put together a guide on TMD to help you understand more about it, what causes it, and how your dentist can help bring you long-term relief from your pain.
Understanding what makes the TMJ so important and complex.
The temporomandibular joints function a lot like sliding hinges and they always work together, meaning that you literally can’t move one without moving the other. As a result, they’re incredibly complex, but this also enables them to move in many different directions, including side to side, up and down, and forward and backward. This makes them one of the most mobile joints in your body. Achieving these movements requires not just complex joints, but an equally complex network of muscles, ligaments, and tendons surrounding them.
All this complexity is necessary because you need the variety of movement for vital tasks like speaking, laughing, expressing yourself through facial expressions, eating, and even swallowing! Because of this, however, TMJ pain can affect your ability to do all these little things that are usually so automatic. Thankfully, though, that’s where your dentist comes in.
Diagnosing the cause of your jaw pain.
Since the TMJ is so complex, there’s a wide range of potential causes for your jaw pain. As a result, the key to treating your TMD and relieving your jaw pain is diagnosing its root cause. Berrien Dental specializes in neuromuscular dentistry and uses advanced technology to get to the bottom of the cause of your jaw pain. We use diagnostic imaging tools like EMG, which stands for electromyograph, and sonography.
An EMG uses electrodes to identify potential muscular or nerve dysfunction in your jaw, while sonography measures the movement and vibrations in your jaw to identify potential joint misalignment. It’s advanced technology like this that helps us determine exactly what is causing your pain, which in turn allows us to come up with the best treatment plan for you. So if you’re wondering, “Why do I have jaw pain?” the answer depends. Here are 5 common causes.
1. Stress and Bruxism
When you’re stressed, you tend to tense up a lot even if you don’t realize it. This tension can lead to an issue called bruxism, where you habitually clench or grind your teeth. You can do this awake or in your sleep and may not even realize that you’re doing it. The tension and constant, increased strain on your jaw can exacerbate pre-existing issues with it. It’s usually these exacerbated issues that then lead to TMD.
This means that even though stress and bruxism are incredibly common triggers for TMD, they’re rarely the sole cause. Even if you never had TMD symptoms until after you began struggling with stress or bruxism, there could still be a bigger underlying cause that you simply weren’t aware of before. The good news here is that managing your stress and bruxism can bring relief, but you may still want to identify and treat the underlying cause as well. Our advanced diagnostic imaging tools are the perfect tools to identify hidden issues like this.
2. Misaligned Bite
An uneven or misaligned bite can have a surprising number of long-term effects on your teeth, jaws, and oral health. When your bite is misaligned, it can put added strain on your jaw muscles, causing you to develop TMD as your jaw becomes irritated, inflamed, and sore even from standard, everyday use. This can cause a chain reaction, where nearby muscles and ligaments try to make up for the overworked muscles of your jaw, leading to the widespread soreness that often comes with TMD.
3. Joint Conditions
Issues with the joints of your jaws themselves are also common causes of TMD. Arthritis can cause TMJ issues as you get older, but other degenerative joint conditions can affect you regardless of your age, such as Ehler-Danlos Syndrome or rheumatoid arthritis.
4. Jaw Injuries
Since your jaw is so complex, any injury to the joints, muscles, ligaments, or tendons that allow it to function properly can lead to TMD. One common injury is the dislocation or displacement of the disc between the ball and socket of the joint, while another is an injury to the rounded end of the bone that joins up with your skull. These injuries can happen as a result of car accidents, even simply from whiplash during an accident, and sports. Ehler-Danlos Syndrome, which is characterized by weak collagen that leads to subluxation or dislocation of joints, can also lead to injuries like this.
5. Weakened Muscles
If your jaw muscles are weaker than they should be, which can happen for a range of reasons, such as old injuries or habits like mouth breathing, they might not function the way they should. Other muscles could attempt to pick up the slack, causing them to end up carrying out jobs they weren’t meant to do or giving them too much work. This can strain your jaw muscles and, once again, ripple out to surrounding muscles, leading to TMD.
Treating the root cause of your TMD.
Thankfully, there are many options when it comes to treating TMD and it is usually a minimally invasive process. With so many potential causes of TMD, it’s incredibly important to diagnose the root cause of your case of TMD. Doing so helps your dentist treat your TMD more effectively, and the root cause will heavily impact what treatment methods they recommend.
A few common treatments include orthodontics to correct a misaligned bite, counseling or medications to treat stress and anxiety, and jaw exercises designed to gently strengthen the muscles around your jaws so they can carry out everyday tasks easily.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is also sometimes used to relieve pain or help restore a correct bite position by relaxing your jaw muscles. Your dentist may also recommend that you take short-term medications like anti-inflammatories or muscle relaxants during your treatment process to help minimize pain.
The majority of TMD issues are resolved with minimal treatments like this. More severe issues with the joint itself may require surgery to repair it, but this is rare and only done after less invasive options haven’t yielded results.
Berrien Dental can help stop your jaw pain.
When you’re experiencing jaw pain, the best thing you can do is schedule an appointment with your dentist and ask them the question you’ve likely been asking yourself since your pain started: “Why do I have jaw pain?” We use our extensive training and advanced technology to answer this question and create a treatment plan that will bring you long-term relief so that you can once again laugh, speak, and eat without giving your jaw a second thought. If you’d like to start working toward eliminating your jaw pain, feel free to schedule a consultation at our clinic at any time.