Ask the Dentist!

My jaw hurts! Is it TMJ?

Everyone at some time or another has had to deal with jaw pain. Anything from a mild, annoying ache to a fairly severe, constant pain. The term “TMJ” is used frequently to describe jaw pain with no obvious cause. In this article I’ll touch on the more common causes of jaw pain and how to treat each problem.

Recent dental work

Bite problems from recent dental work is a more common cause of jaw pain. When dental work is done, patients are commonly numbed with a local anesthetic. This in turn can make it very difficult to get the correct bite on a new filling or crown. I always tell my patients after the numbness wears off that if the bite feels “off” to call the office so we can check and adjust the new restoration. If not corrected, the tooth as well as the muscles of the jaw can become sore and painful. A simple bite adjustment may be all that is needed to treat this problem.

Dental infections

Infections, especially acute infections, can cause mild to severe jaw pain. Large cavities in teeth can reach the nerves of the teeth causing an abscess to form. In this instance, pain is usually accompanied by swelling of the jaw or gums around the teeth. Acute infections of the gums can cause similar types of jaw pain. Antibiotics and treatment of the underlying problem, whether it be a root canal, deep cleaning or in worst cases extraction of a tooth may have to be performed.

Muscle pain

Pain from muscles of the jaw is what is commonly called “TMJ.” The actual term TMJ refers to the jaw joint itself called the temporomandibular joint. The term to describe the pain aspect is properly called TMD, temporomandibular dysfunction.

As you can see from the photo above, there are several muscles involved with the function of the jaw. Anything that interferes with the function of these muscles such as the bite being off or dental infections will cause these muscles to go into spasms, causing pain. Tension headaches is a classic symptom of muscle spasms, usually caused from tooth clenching during the day from stress. Night time clenching can also lead to headaches in the morning upon awaking.

Treatment for TMD can range from bite adjustments, stress reduction, needed dental work to treat dental infections or TMD splints. Splints are designed to help reduce the activity of muscles to help relieve muscle spasms.

Treatment of TMD can be a lifetime treatment depending on the underlying cause. A thorough evaluation can help determine what the best course of treatment for you.

If you are experiencing jaw pain and need our help, give us a call at 225-926-4203

All Questions