Why is TMJ So Painful?

Why is TMJ So Painful?


TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. The temporomandibular joint is the small joint located in front of your ears, where the skull and lower jaw meet. This complex joint allows you to move your jaw up and down and side to side so you can talk, chew, and yawn. As one of the most- used joint mechanisms in your body, and situated the closest to the central nervous system in your body, it’s extremely sensitive to changes, discomforts and pain.

If you suffer from TMJ disorder, it can be challenging to pinpoint the cause of the pain. However, there are a few common causes.

Let's look at some of those causes so you can learn about what might be causing your TMJ pain.

What is Temporomandibular Joint Disorder?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ), also known as the temporomandibular articulation, is a complex joint that connects the mandible with the skull's temporal bone. The TMJ is a hinge joint that allows for up-and-down and side-to-side movements. It is similar to other synovial joints in the knee, elbow, or ankle.

The TMJ is made up of three main structures:

  1. The articular disc, also known as the meniscus, sits between the condyle and mandible. This disc helps reduce friction between these two structures when moving against each other.
  2. The articular capsule is a thin layer of tissue surrounding the disc that keeps it from rubbing against other structures inside your head and face.
  3. The ligaments are strong bands of connective tissue that hold everything together around the TMJ, helping to keep it stable during movement.

The TMJ is a small but critical part of the jaw. It's one of the most complicated joints in the body, making it vulnerable to injury or disease, which is referred to as TMJ Disorder..

What causes TMJ pain?

If you have TMJ pain, you may feel it in your face or your head, and it can be triggered by chewing or grinding your teeth.

The exact cause of TMJ pain is unknown. But there are several theories about why it happens:

  • Repetitive jaw movement. TMJ can be caused by repetitive jaw movements such as chewing gum or clenching your teeth.
  • Dental bite issues. When you have an irregular or misaligned bite, your jaws may not fit together correctly when you chew or smile. This causes stress on your teeth and can lead to TMJ pain.
  • Tension in the muscles surrounding the jaw. Some people experience tension in the muscles surrounding their jaws as a cause of TMJ pain. This is especially true if they're clenching or grinding their teeth when they sleep since these behaviors increase muscle tension around the jaw joint.

Additionally, TMJ pain may be caused by an injury to the head or neck.

Why is TMJ Disorder so painful?

To understand why TMJ disorder is so painful, we need to look at how the jaw works. The mandible (lower jaw) has two joints: the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and the glenoid fossa (socket). The TMJ is a ball-and-socket joint made up of two rounded surfaces that fit together like a golf ball and tee. This joint allows you to open your mouth wide, rotate your head from side to side and chew food properly. The head of your mandible moves within this socket when you speak, eat or yawn.

The TMJ is surrounded by muscles that enable it to open wide or close tightly—creating a bite force as strong as 1,000 newtons (roughly 225 pounds). Your brain controls these muscles through nerves in your face, neck, and spine. When these nerves aren't working properly or are too tight or too loose, they affect how well these muscles work—leading to problems with opening and closing the mouth and causing pain that can be severe,

What are the symptoms of TMJ disorder?

Some people with TMJ have no symptoms, but others experience problems like clicking or popping sounds when they open or close their mouths. They may have jaw pain that gets worse when chewing or yawning. They may also have trouble opening their mouth wide or moving their jaw from side to side.

You may have TMJ if you:

  • Experience clicking or popping when you open or close your mouth.
  • Have jaw pain that gets worse when chewing or yawning.
  • Are unable to open your mouth wide or move it from side to side.
  • Experience headache, earaches, migraines
  • Experience neck and shoulder tightness with limited range of motion in the neck

How is TMJ Treated?

Self-managed therapy, such as switching to a soft food diet during flare-ups and applying ice packs to reduce inflammation, is widely recommended as the first line of treatment for many people with TMJ symptoms. If these treatments don't work, occlusal stabilization splint therapy, which relaxes the jaw as you sleep, can help relieve symptoms.

Occlusal splints help take pressure off the jaw. This dental device is often worn at night and helps reposition and stabilize the jaw. It will not only reduce the pain you are feeling, but it may even help with alignment. 

We also utilize Transcutaneous Electrical Neural Stimulation(TENS) to target three major cranial nerves, innervating the area around the TMJ. All the muscles around the jaw will relax and work together harmoniously without tension and pain, allowing the jaw to stay in a position in which we can capture the space between teeth, fabricating a neuromuscular orthotic that stabilizes the jaw. The orthotic lets all the muscles around the jaw loosen and heal, alleviating pressure and pain.

Although mouth guards are available online or at your local drugstore, having your dentist assess your condition and fit you for a custom device is your safest option and more likely to provide significant pain relief.

San Francisco Dental Wellness Treats TMJ Disorder

San Francisco Dental Wellness is helmed by Dr. Chris Chui who is also the clinical director at the San Francisco VA Medical Center. Skilled and experienced, Dr. Chui has successfully treated thousands of complicated TMJ Disorder cases, no small accomplishment considering TMJ is not a simple matter to resolve, and can affect you physically and emotionally.

So, if you think you have TMJ disorder and want to learn more about your treatment options, San Francisco Dental Wellness can help. They manage cases ranging from mild to severe. Contact them at 415-781-1944 for more information or request an appointment online.