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Feel Sore Around Your Jaw, Face, and Neck? You May Have TMJ Disorder
The temporomandibular joint (aka TMJ) connects the lower jaw to the skull and the hinges can be felt if
you put your fingers just in front of the lower earlobes and open and close your mouth. WebMD calls
the TMJ one of the most complex joints in the body.
Unfortunately, it is easily displaced (known as TMS Disorder) and this can cause quite a number of
problems until your dentist or other healthcare professionals are able to return the TMJ to its proper
- It may become “locked” so that it’s even hard to open and close your mouth at all.
- You may experience unconscious clenching of your teeth.
- Teeth may feel sensitive and chewing is painful.
- The jaw muscles might be sore and the sides of your face could swell.
- Your may feel congestion in your ears, earaches, and occasional ringing (not constant, as with tinnitus).
- You are likely to experience frequent headaches or dizziness.
But showing just how interconnected the jaw is with the rest of the body, you may also feel soreness in
your neck or shoulders, while your hands and feet might feel numb.
So what causes TMJ Disorder? Allen Moses, DDS, Brendan Stack, DDS, and H. Clifton Simmons III DDS in
“Temporomandibular Disorders,” a chapter in Craniofacial Pain: A Handbook for Assessment, Diagnosis
and Management, address this:
“These tiny joints, unlike other joints in the body, are incapable of
movement in all three dimensions…They can withstand normal biomechanical stresses, but trauma to
the mandible [lower jaw] and missing posterior teeth create conditions of discal displacement…Also,
sharp, fast movements may rupture collagen [the protein in the structure of bones]…Elastin, a
connective tissue, can be damaged and cannot be repaired…”
In short, anything from a car accident to a fall could displace and damage the TMJ.
Women Are Especially Vulnerable to TMJ Disorder
About 15% of all women suffer from TMJ dysfunction and those 18-44 constitute 90% of all cases in part
because the collagen protein that holds the disks in place between the joint’s ball and socket is weaker
than in men. Pre-menopausal women are also often deficient in calcium and magnesium that affect
bone density and menstruation may cause vitamin deficiencies that contribute to TMJ malfunction,
according to WebMD.
Rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia are more common in women than men and can
damage this double joint. Women who are undergoing hormone replacement therapy or take oral
contraceptives often feel jaw pain, an indicator of a connection.
A final reason women may be prone to TMJ Disorder is stress, which can range from the burdens of their
careers to managing their families, and this can lead to clenching teeth unconsciously or excessive gum
chewing, both of which can lead to the joint’s dislocation.
Still, everything from dietary deficiencies to a misaligned bite can cause even young men to suffer from
So What Can Wilshire Smile Studio Do About TMJ Disorder?
If you hear popping or clicking sounds when you open or close your mouth (the most common
symptoms of TMJ Disorder), you should make an appointment for a full oral exam and a digital x-ray
(which involves minimal radiation).
Depending on the diagnosis, your dentist may propose having old dental work redone, such as crowns,
which have been reduced from grinding your teeth (known as bruxism). We can prevent damage from
occurring to the new dental work by creating a customized mouthguard to be worn while you sleep to
prevent bruxism, even if your stressed circumstances have not changed.
Or you may need your bite to be made healthier by having crooked teeth straightened with Invisalign
orthodontic aligner trays.
Many cases can require the patient to wear a personalized orthotic splint, another type of mouthguard,
during the day, which would slowly return the TMJ to its original position.
We can also teach you neuromuscular exercises to help you relax your jaw and prescribe anti-
inflammatories or muscle relaxers.
In the most serious cases, our oral surgeon may need to do surgery to repair underlying jaw problems
(which would be painless because of a wide range of anesthetic options).
In addition, for those who need it, we can refer those with TMJ Disorder for physical therapy,
acupuncture, chiropractic, and ultrasound or laser therapy.