Do you rub the area in front of your ears in hopes of easing the ache there? Are you foregoing favorite foods because it hurts to chew them? Jaw pain can be a minor annoyance or a major hassle. It can also be a warning sign. Could your pain be caused by bruxism, or teeth grinding? Is temporomandibular joint disorder, commonly referred to as TMJ disorder, to blame? When your jaw aches, the culprit might be one or both of these common dental issues.

Major Causes of Jaw Pain

Bruxism is defined as the habitual grinding or clenching of the teeth. It’s something that 10% of people will battle at some point in their lives. When this behavior is mild or infrequent, it’s unlikely to cause serious damage. However, a severe or chronic case can lead to significant problems. Over time, grinding your teeth together can cause worn, cracked or loose teeth, gum issues, ear pain, headaches, and sleep troubles. It may also trigger painful problems with the temporomandibular joints.

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder
The temporomandibular joints are the hinge joints that connect the lower jaw to the skull. When an injury, dental misalignment, arthritis, stress, or poor posture irritates or injures this joint, the result is a TMJ disorder, or TMD. Habitually grinding or clenching teeth is another behavior that can set the stage for this disorder. Experts say that 70% of people will experience some degree of TMD during their lifetimes. What red flags indicate a problem? Tenderness or stiffness in the jaw’s joints, the sound or sensation of popping or clicking in these joints, and discomfort when chewing are all cause for concern. Facial pain and headaches are other common symptoms of TMD.

The Connection between Teeth Grinding and TMJ Disorder
Bruxism and TMD aren’t the same. The first is a behavior; the latter is a condition. These problems can exist independently, but there is a clear connection between them. When teeth grinding goes untreated, it can injure the temporomandibular joints. That’s why it is critical that you talk to your dentist at the first sign of either of these issues. Seeking prompt treatment for your jaw pain will help you feel better faster. It may also allow you to prevent more severe dental problems.

Treatment to Protect Your Smile
It’s hard to smile when your jaw hurts. Fortunately, there are things that your dentist can do to treat or prevent teeth grinding and TMD. Generally, the initial treatment for either problem is conservative and personalized. Customized orthotic appliances, often called mouth guards, can stop the grinding or clenching of the teeth and hold the jaw in its proper place. Physical therapy can strengthen and stretch the jaw muscles. Using over-the-counter pain relievers and moist heat can ease your discomfort. If these personalized treatments fail, injections or surgical corrections may be recommended.

At Wekiva Dental, we’re passionate about dental health. We take great pleasure in using our expertise to help people in Longwood and around the Orlando, Florida, area. Our goal is to help all patients maintain a healthy and beautiful smile. If you’re experiencing jaw pain, don’t wait. Call 407-869-7333 or request an appointment online today.