The pain may be sharp and searing, occurring each time you swallow, yawn, talk, or chew, or it may be dull and constant. It hurts over the joint, immediately in front of the ear, but pain can also radiate elsewhere. It often causes spasms in the adjacent muscles that are attached to the bones of the skull, face, and jaws. Then, pain can be felt at the side of the head (the temple), the cheek, the lower jaw, and the teeth.
A very common focus of pain is in the ear. Many patients come to the ear specialist quite convinced their pain is from an ear infection. When the earache is not associated with a hearing loss and the eardrum looks normal, the doctor will consider the possibility that the pain comes from a TMJ dysfunction.
There are a few other symptoms besides pain that TMJ dysfunction can cause. It can make popping, clicking, or grinding sounds when the jaws are opened widely. Or the jaw locks wide open (dislocated). At the other extreme, TMJ dysfunction can prevent the jaws from fully opening. Some people get ringing in their ears from TMJ trouble.
- Chronic, reoccurring headaches
- Click, pop or grating sound in the jaw joints
- Earaches, congestion or ringing ears
- Limited jaw opening or locking
- Pain when chewing
- Neck and or throat pain
- Difficulty in closing the teeth together
- Tired, tight jaws
- Pain behind the eyes
- Scalp tenderness
- Swallowing difficulty
TMJ Symptoms and Diagnosis
The most common symptom of TMJ is pain in the jaw joint, face, neck, and shoulders. The pain may be severe, may last for many years, and may be either intermittent or constant. Clicking, popping, or locking of the jaw is often experienced. Other symptoms include difficulty in chewing, misalignment of the bite, swelling on the side of the face, toothaches, neck aches, headaches, earaches, and hearing problems. Diagnosis of TMJ involves your dentist’s evaluation of your bite or occlusion. A mold impression of your bite will be made and mounted on an articulator, an instrument that imitates the jaw’s movement and joint closure. Your dentist will then determine if TMJ is caused by a structural disorder of the joint or if uneven teeth are affecting joint closure.
Temporary TMJ Symptom Relief
Although they do not treat the cause of the TMJ, these forms of self care may be practiced to provide temporarily relief:
- Heat and Cold Packs: Apply to the side of your face and temple for 10 minute intervals to reduce pain.
- Physical Therapy, Biofeedback, and Massage: These may offer temporary relief from TMJ.
- Limit Jaw Movement: Avoid applying pressure to the jaw and large movements of the jaw such as wide yawning and singing.
- Dental Treatment: If any teeth require restoration, maintain the dental treatment. Your tooth problems may affect the bite, which may contribute to your TMJ.
- Diet: Avoid foods like carrots, pretzels, and gum that require repetitive chewing.
- Dental Appliances: A mouth guard or splint may be recommended by your dentist to reduce the effects of tooth grinding or clenching and can improve your bite.
- Medications: The need for medication depends on the severity of the disorder and your medical history. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (eg. ibuprofen), muscle relaxants, anti-anxiety medications, and in some cases anti-depressants may be prescribed.