Temporomandibular joint disorder is often referred to as TMD or TMJ. This condition is fairly common, though you may not know if you have it, until painful symptoms appear. What does TMJ feel like?
The TMJs are the two hinge joints that join the lower jaw to the skull. They are located near the ears on either side of the face. Their proximity to many nerves and ligaments triggers multiple pain points. When the joints malfunction as a result of disease, injury, or stress, they trigger jaw pain. However, it doesn't stop there. There are other painful symptoms as well. Much like bruxism, which is often linked to jaw joint dysfunctions, TMD requires treatment to relieve the painful side effects and protect your oral health.
What Does TMJ Disorder Feel Like?
As Mayo Clinic explains, the TMJs are surprisingly complex structures that create a sliding hinge to make jaw movement possible. Several moving parts are in play to make it possible for you to speak, chew, yawn, and go about your day. The jawbones inside the joint interact with the cartilage and shock-absorbing disks to allow for this daily movement.
Unfortunately, there are times when things go wrong, and a dysfunction of the jaw joint triggers a TMJ disorder. The jaw joints are connected to many other parts of the body so this can lead to many painful TMJ symptoms. Reviewing these symptoms, you can get an answer for “what does TMJ feel like?”:
- Sore Jaw Muscles: Jaw muscles often feel sore, achy, or tired when the TMJs are distressed. That's because any malfunction of the joint can push these muscles to work harder to compensate, leaving them tired and sore. Jaw pain is generally one of the first symptoms of TMJ disorder to appear for many sufferers.
- Locked Jaw: It is also common for the jaw to emit audible popping and clicking sounds. This may be accompanied by difficulty opening and closing the mouth and stiffness that may even lock the jaw in place. This may be a sign of inflammation or an indication of physical issues with the cartilage or the small disk inside the TMJ.
- Facial Pain: What does TMJ pain feel like? Discomfort in the facial muscles is fairly common. When TMD is present, nearby muscles in the cheeks and face are often recruited to help compensate. These muscles grow fatigued and achy because they're taking on tasks that they weren't designed for. If this persists, the face can even change shape to TMJ face shape and become more square as the muscles of the face grow.
- Ear Pain: The proximity of the ear canals to the oral cavity means that ear pain is a common symptom of TMJ disorders. Referred pain can trigger earaches, a feeling of fullness, and tinnitus. Tinnitus is the sensation of ringing in the ears.
- Headaches: What does a TMJ headache feel like? Headaches are also associated with TMD. Some sufferers experience tension or sinus headaches that might be a result of referred pain. Others find that their TMJ disorder triggers their migraine headaches. Most often, headaches occur in the morning when you wake up after a night of clenching the jaw and/or grinding teeth.
- Toothaches: Toothaches are a frequent complaint. TMJ disorders are often linked with bruxism, and teeth grinding and jaw clenching can set the stage for tooth damage, gum troubles, and other dental dilemmas.
- Neck Pain: Does TMJ cause neck pain? Neck muscles that are painful, stiff, and sore are often present in TMJ patients. In fact, the pain and muscle tension can extend into the back through the spine. Some people even complain of numbness and pain in their arms and fingers. This is likely the result of referred pain and stress.
TMJ Treatment Options
Now you have an answer to “what does TMJ feel like?”. Being aware of the painful ways that TMJ disorder can make itself known gives you an advantage in treating it. It increases the odds that you'll recognize the symptoms if you experience them and think to take action sooner. Prompt action can help protect your oral and overall health by helping you to get treatment before the damage progresses.
If you suspect that a TMJ disorder is the cause of your discomfort, visit your dentist. They can check your teeth for signs of wear that indicate bruxism, bite problems, or misalignments are present. They may also take X-rays to better assess the results of TMJ on your jaw and teeth. If a TMJ disorder is diagnosed, they'll recommend an appropriate TMJ treatment.
As HealthLine reports, a number of different treatments are available. They can be used alone or in combination to treat TMJ disorder pain:
- Choose soft foods and avoid tough or overly chewy ones.
- Forgo chewing gum.
- Use physical therapy exercises or commonly called TMJ exercises to stretch and balance the jaw muscles and coordinate jaw movement.
- Practice meditation and other relaxation techniques to reduce stress.
- Take medications as directed. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or prescription painkillers can decrease pain. Anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce swelling. Muscle relaxants can ease muscle tension and stiffness.
- Corrective dental work can correct bite issues.
- Oral splints and TMJ mouthguards can prevent teeth grinding and jaw clenching, protecting the teeth.
- Surgery is a last resort. Arthrocentesis clears fluid and debris from inside the joint. In the most severe cases, the joint is surgically replaced. For most TMJ cases, surgery is not necessary.
Are You at Risk of Developing a TMJ Disorder?
What causes a person to develop a TMJ disorder? Cleveland Clinic points out that there are a variety of factors that are considered risk factors or causes of TMJ:
- Injury to the TMJ or surrounding tissues.
- Bruxing, teeth grinding, and jaw clenching.
- Osteoarthritis in the TMJ.
- Dislocation of the disc inside the TMJ.
- Jaw misalignment or bite issues.
While TMJ disorder may be a dysfunction of the jaw joint, it doesn't just impact the jaw. People who suffer from this condition frequently report feeling painful symptoms radiating out from the jaw into the teeth, face, and ears. Even the head, neck, and back can be affected. Fortunately, recognizing the symptoms and reaching out to your dentist for a proper diagnosis can help you find an effective TMJ treatment plan to manage your pain.
If your dentist suspects that bruxing is contributing to your TMD issues and has recommended a custom-fit night guard to help manage your condition, Pro Teeth Guard can help. We provide custom-fit mouthguards online. Our products are made in a professional dental lab using professional materials and processes. The night guard you receive is effectively the same one that you’d receive from a dentist, but our prices are more affordable.
- Burke, D. (2019). TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint) Disorders. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/tmj-disorders#treatment
- Cleveland Clinic Writing Staff (2021). Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15066-temporomandibular-disorders-tmd-overview
- Mayo Clinic Writing Staff (2018). TMJ Disorders. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tmj/symptoms-causes/syc-20350941