What Does TMJ Feel Like? Understanding the Symptoms

Woman suffering from TMJ pain

Suffering from pain in your jaw? Jaw pain can be excruciating – especially when you don’t know the cause. 

In many cases, facial and jaw pain is related to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), the hinge-like joint between your upper and lower jawbones. TMJ disorders occur when this joint isn’t working properly.

Your temporomandibular joint contains a series of ligaments, muscles, discs, and bones to move your jaw side to side and forward and backward. When something goes wrong within this joint, you’ll know it from the pain and difficulty moving your jaw. 

Do you worry you might be suffering from a TMJ disorder? Learn more about the workings of this disorder, what its symptoms feel like, and how treatment can help you find pain relief. 

TMJ Disorder: What It Is

According to Mayo Clinic, TMJ disorders are a type of temporomandibular disorder (or TMD) that causes jaw pain in the joint and along the muscles that control the movement of the jaw. 

It can be difficult to identify the exact cause of a TMJ disorder. In some cases, these disorders are genetic—other times, they’re caused by arthritis or an injury to the jaw. Jaw pain can also be related to bruxism, or the clenching and grinding of teeth. However, many people who habitually clench or grind their jaw never develop a TMJ disorder.

The pain from a TMJ disorder is temporary in most cases. Many patients find relief with the help of nonsurgical dental treatments and self-managed care. In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary.

What Does TMJ Feel Like? Symptoms and Signs

The best way to identify a TMJ disorder quickly is to understand what the symptoms feel like. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Tenderness, pain, or swelling in the jaw joint
  • Pain through the neck and shoulders
  • Headaches
  • Toothaches
  • Feeling pain or exhaustion within your facial muscles
  • Swelling on either side of the face
  • Pain around or in either ear
  • Discomfort or pain when chewing
  • An uncomfortable bite
  • Hearing problems
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Difficulty opening or closing your mouth, known as locked jaw
  • Grating or clicking sound when you open and close your mouth

If you have experienced any of these and think you may have a TMJ disorder, don’t hesitate to reach out and learn more about your treatment options. At Muscaro & Martini Dentistry, we help patients in the Tampa Bay area find relief from jaw pain and other problems caused by a TMJ disorder.

What Causes TMJ Disorders?

While there’s no one cause for TMJ issues, there may be a number of contributing factors that are to blame. A TMJ disorder may develop under any of the following conditions:

  • Arthritic damage to your TMJ joint’s cartilage
  • A jaw injury such as whiplash, a fall, or a blow to the face
  • Erosion of the discs in your jaw over time
  • Chronic grinding or clenching of teeth
  • Intense anxiety or stress that causes you to tighten your jaw and facial muscles
  • Poor prolonged posture
  • Orthodontic braces
  • Using too much chewing gum
  • A disease of the connective tissues around the temporomandibular joint

Am I At Risk for TMJ?

In addition to the causes of TMJ, it’s critical to have a good understanding of who is most at-risk for developing TMJ. Factors that can increase the chance of developing TMJ disorders include:

  • Arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis as well as osteoarthritis
  • Long-term grinding or clenching of teeth
  • Severe jaw injury
  • Fibromyalgia
  • A bite that is not in line
  • Deformities of the face or jaw

Sometimes, stress-related habits can lead to TMJ disorders. These stress habits that can raise your risk include biting your lips, nails, or frequently chewing on things like gum, candy, or straws. 

In addition to stress and health concerns, age and gender also play a role in determining who is most at risk. Most people who suffer TMJ symptoms are between the ages of 20-40. It is more common in women. You can talk to your dentist if you’re concerned about your risk of developing TMJ.

Risks of Leaving TMJ Untreated

If you choose not to seek treatment for your jaw pain, there are potential risks to your health.

Medical Conditions

TMJ can cause constant pain in some patients who struggle with jaw clenching and teeth grinding. Some patients struggle with insomnia because of this pain or attempt to self-medicate, which can be dangerous.

Symptoms have also been known to contribute to feelings of depression or anxiety. If the pain is keeping you from comfortably eating, it can lead to nutrition issues, especially in elderly patients.

There’s no reason to suffer through any of these additional medical complications associated with TMJ because there are easy and effective treatments available through dentistry.

Dental Health

Your dental health can also suffer as a result of untreated TMJ. Clenching and grinding can lead to worn-down enamel or even fractured teeth. This disorder can also lead you to favor one side of your jaw more than the other as a response to the pain, leading to asymmetrical muscle growth and swelling of the jaw area.

TMJ Treatment Through Dentistry

TMJ disorders can effectively be treated at your dentist’s office along with at-home care. Some non-surgical, non-medicated treatment options include mouth guards, oral splints, physical therapy, and counseling around the habits that trigger your pain.

Along with these therapies, certain pharmaceutical medications may be able to help. Some of the most beneficial medications for TMJ disorders are:

  • Pain relievers or anti-inflammatories. These can be over-the-counter or prescription-strength.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants. Medications such as amitriptyline can be used in low doses to treat bruxism, sleeplessness, and pain relief.
  • Muscle relaxers. These drugs may be prescribed for short-term use to help relieve TMJ disorder pain caused by muscle spasms in the face.

Find Relief For Your TMJ Pain

Are you done with suffering from relentless jaw pain? If you’ve been asking yourself “What does TMJ feel like?” and think you may have this disorder, you need professional treatment. 

Our team at Muscaro & Martini Dentistry is proud to serve patients in the Tampa Bay area. Schedule an appointment to see our TMJ experts and find relief faster. Contact us today to get started.

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