Place your fingers on either side of your face, just in front of your ears, and open your mouth. You’re feeling your temporomandibular joints (TMJs) — or the sliding hinge joints that connect either side of your jawbone to your skull — in action.
Healthy jaw joints don’t require a second thought: They function as expected, allowing you to speak, sing, yawn, and chew normally. But when either of your TMJs develop a problem, the ensuing discomfort can limit jaw movement and make it hard to chew normally or even speak coherently.
The first sign of a developing TMJ disorder? For many people, it’s a painless, abnormal popping sensation in the jaw joint. If your jaw is always popping, schedule a visit with our expert team at Hazel Dell Dentistry in Carmel, Indiana. As dentists who specialize in TMJ treatment, Dr. Suzette Nikas and Dr. Chelsea Laucher offer targeted solutions that address the underlying cause of TMJ dysfunction and deliver lasting relief.
Here, we explore the ins and outs of TMJ dysfunction, including the benefits of early care.
A TMJ disorder often begins as an audible clicking or popping sensation when you talk, chew, or open your mouth. For as disconcerting as these sounds and sensation are, they’re usually painless — at least initially. They’re also your first warning sign of an impending jaw problem.
Eventually, most cases of jaw popping or clicking begin to progress, generating some degree of jaw tenderness or facial pain which may be accompanied by periods of sharp, acute pain in one or both jaw joints.
Up to 12 million adults in the United States live with chronic TMJ pain and dysfunction, or the worsening symptoms that can occur without early detection and treatment. Top signs of TMJ disorder progression include:
Advanced TMJ pain and stiffness isn’t just irritating, it’s also concerning — particularly if it becomes difficult to eat or talk. Left untreated, TMJ dysfunction may progress even further, causing very limited jaw movement, chronic headaches, or a permanent bite misalignment.
Anything that strains, impairs, degrades, or damages any part of your jaw joint — from the cartilage that cushions its socket to the shock-absorbing disc that facilitates fluid jawbone movement — can cause a TMJ disorder. Problems that can lead to TMJ dysfunction include:
While our team can often determine the underlying cause of TMJ dysfunction, some TMJ issues develop without an obvious or readily identifiable root cause.
If we suspect you may have an emerging TMJ problem based on your jaw popping and other reported initial symptoms, we’ll perform a comprehensive oral evaluation to verify its existence and determine its origin. This may include assessing your jaw joints for:
A dental X-ray can check for signs of arthritis; if necessary, a CT scan can reveal any problematic discs. Having an accurate diagnosis is the first step in creating a treatment plan that will be able to effectively address your emerging TMJ disorder and stop its progression.
In most cases, TMJ dysfunction responds well to a combination of noninvasive, conservative care solutions. Over-the-counter pain relievers can take the edge off persistent pain and help you sleep better at night; ice packs or moist heat can also provide effective short-term relief.
Resting your jaw joints can ease or help prevent inflammation and pain; switching to a soft food diet for a few weeks can help your jaw relax; gently massaging your TMJs and stretching your jaw muscles every day can keep them more relaxed as time goes on.
If grinding your teeth is part of your TMJ problem — as it is for many people — we’ll prescribe a custom oral appliance (mouthguard) for you to wear when you sleep. In addition to reducing stress on your TMJs, wearing a mouthguard can protect your teeth and your bite.
If you need to get to the bottom of unexplained jaw popping, we can help. Call our experts at Hazel Dell Dentistry in Carmel, Indiana today, or click online to schedule a visit any time.