You grind or clench your teeth, get chronic headaches, feel tenderness in your jaw, hear a clicking sound when you chew, have a dull pain in or around your ear. Any or all of these symptoms might mean you’re suffering from TMJ pain or a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). But it’s also likely that you’re not, or that the symptoms will go away either on their own or with some simple self-care practices.

It’s Complicated

Your TMJ acts like a sliding hinge, connecting your jawbone to your skull. You have one joint on each side of your jaw. TMD can cause pain in your jaw joint and in the muscles that control jaw movement.

The parts of the bones that interact in the joint are covered with cartilage and are separated by a small shock-absorbing disk; this normally keeps the movement smooth.

TMJ Pain Can Occur If:

  • The disk erodes or moves out of proper alignment
  • The joint’s cartilage is damaged by arthritis
  • The joint is damaged by a blow or other impact

“Diagnosing TMD is a complicated process,” says Dr. Matthew Parr, DDS. “This is due to the complex nature of the joint itself. Your pain is probably coming from a combination of factors, so pinning down an exact cause or causes is tough.”

Chill Out But Beware!

The good news is the majority of TMD is temporary. Beware of pseudo-experts offering invasive procedures to alleviate pain. Surgery should always be the last resort.

Do Try This at Home!

  • Eating soft foods
  • Apply ice or moist heat
  • Avoid extreme jaw movements (like wide yawning, loud singing, and gum chewing)

Still in pain? The TMJ Association recommends seeing your medical doctor first to rule out some of the conditions that may mimic TMD. The American Association for Dental Research advises the gold standard for diagnosing TMD begins with a patient history and clinical exam of the head and neck.

Call Your Dentist If:

  • Pain is persistent
  • Jaw is tender
  • You can’t open or close your jaw completely

“There are dental appliances like stabilization splints or bite guards—sometimes crowns or bridgework—that may be warranted,” says Dr. Parr. He advises his patients, “Never hesitate to call us at Surf City Dental if you think you might have TMD.”

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