Addressing the Painful Symptoms of TMD
There’s no doubt that TMJ problems lead to pain. Nearly all of our patients come to us with pain of some kind. But a temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a complex issue and as such, can lead to all sorts of pain that manifests differently in each person. While “jaw pain” may seem like the obvious answer, in fact, TMD can cause many other painful symptoms, including:
• Pain in the jaw or face after eating or chewing gum
• Facial pain or jaw pain that gets worse after talking or during stress
• Headaches, jaw pain, or tooth pain upon waking in the morning
• Headaches without a clear cause, especially near the temples, eyes, and back of the head
• Ear pain
• Pain in the neck, back, and shoulders
• General pain in the jaw or facial muscles that spreads to the teeth
Pain relievers and TMJ pain
The difference with TMD pain is that it doesn’t just go away by popping a pain reliever. Medication can be helpful to temporarily relieve the symptoms of TMJ disorders. However, it usually only provides a short-term solution. If the underlying biomechanics are not addressed and the source of pain is not identified, usually repeated injury and insult to the area will occur, leading to more protracted pain.
It’s important to note that over-the-counter pain relievers, especially when taken long-term, can have averse side effects. Taking aspirin, ibuprofen, or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for long periods can lead to stomach problems, kidney problems, high blood pressure, heart problems, and more. Never take NSAIDs for more than a day or two without a doctor’s approval.
Will my TMJ pain go away?
If you have TMD, you likely have irritation, inflammation, or injury to the TMJ. Without addressing these issues and healing the jaw joint, the pain and other symptoms will most likely continue. Each individual will have their own TMD causes and symptoms, so its impossible to predict how severe the pain will be and how well a person can cope with it.
How long a patient has already suffered from the pain can influence how likely the pain will continue. Usually, acute problems (like tooth grinding for a day or two during a period of high stress that quickly goes away) will resolve within a few days or weeks. But, if joint pain has existed for years already, it is likely to take longer to resolve.
The key to successful TMD treatment is creating a personalized, individual plan that is customized to each patient. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to TMD pain relief. But, we have found that addressing the root causes of TMD and developing a treatment plan that the patient can follow is the most important step to pain relief and improved quality of life.
Why does my jaw pain get better and worse?
TMD pain can be quite puzzling. In times of stress, illness, or even changes in the weather, symptoms may get worse and then mysteriously fade after a few days or weeks. But then, they usually come back again when the next trigger hits. This cycle can continue indefinitely if the underlying causes of TMD aren’t addressed.
And, some people may experience a TMD flare and not realize what is really happening. TMD pain can mimic the same type of pain felt in other disorders, such as ear infections, sinus headaches, dental infections, and headache disorders. So, a TMD flare may be blamed on another issue altogether.
Unfortunately, many people are told that TMD pain is “all in their head” because it doesn’t occur all the time. Or, they may be advised to take pain killers when it acts up and ignore it when it feels better. This strategy doesn’t address the “why” of TMD, which means the painful symptoms are likely to come back again and again.
Most commonly, a person’s TMD symptoms seem to get better and worse because they haven’t yet learned about their own TMD triggers. They may not realize what is causing their TMD to flare. This is often because TMD triggers are perplexing, often caused by seemingly unrelated factors that people would never associate with TMD. You may be surprised to learn that problems such as colds and flu, allergies, and temperature changes can have an effect on your jaw – not to mention things like stress, food choices, and hydration.
Does my TMJ pain need treatment?
Like any medical condition, it’s usually not helpful to delay treatment. TMD is a problem with the jaw joint, which is arguably one of the most important joints in the body. And allowing the inflammation and irritation to continue means that important joint could be subject to long-term damage.
Consider whether TMJ symptoms are interfering with your life, and how that may affect your health in other ways. Headaches, jaw pain, ear aches, and sore muscles can lead to problems with sleeping, which affects nearly all aspects of health. Poor sleep also lowers your ability to cope with stress, which can start another cycle of tooth grinding, tension headaches, and TMD symptoms. Some people find that ongoing headaches or jaw pain leads to social withdrawal. It may affect a person’s professional life if their pain is causing them to miss work or holding them back from pursuing better opportunities.
Many of our patients express regret in waiting so long to seek treatment because they finally have relief and can get back to living their lives. Conversely, we’ve not had a patient yet who wished they had lived with the symptoms longer!
Take the first step to TMJ relief
Don’t let TMD hold you back. If you’re ready to find out how you can get relief from your symptoms and get to the root of your TMJ problems, we are here to help. Please contact us to set up your clinical exam and consultation. Together, we can discuss what is causing your symptoms and how we can address them. Our patients receive personalized care that helps get them relief – both now and into the future.