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Franklyn Alexander, DDS
General & Cosmetic Dentistry

Patients Choice Winner 2016

Chronic pain in your neck or head? It Might Be TMJ

Do you have pain around your head or neck and wonder what might be causing it? It might be
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, or TMJ for short. Frequently, people affected by this joint disorder have no pain in their teeth. Failing to associate their head and neck pain to the teeth, many cases of it go undiagnosed.

TMJ Symptoms

This condition affects the muscles and nerves around the jaw, often caused by misalignment of the teeth. TMJ can cause chronic pain in and around the jaw, ears, face, head, and neck. If left untreated, severe cases can result in the degradation of the temporomandibular joint, which can cause inflammatory pain.

While some symptoms are easy to overlook, there are some helpful signs to watch for. Popping or clicking in the jaw joints, especially when opening your mouth wide can be a sign of jaw malalignment. chronic headaches, a sore jaw, and frequent pain in the neck and head are also possible signs. Finally, look (and listen) for ringing in the ears, and difficulty chewing certain foods.

TMJ Causes

One common cause of TMJ is when the upper and lower rows of teeth fail to line up properly—this is known as malocclusion. Common causes for malocclusion itself include:

  • Thumb sucking through late childhood,
  • Excess crowding or gaps between the teeth, or
  • Missing teeth due to accidents or decay.

People with moderate to severe malocclusion tend to clench their jaw or grind their teeth, leading to erosion of the teeth, and excess stress on the hinges of the jaw and its surrounding muscles.

Women tend to experience more pain from malocclusion than men, and women are diagnosed with TMJ more than five times as often as men.

TMJ Treatments

Treatment for TMJ varies based on the severity of the condition. For some, using a plastic splint can be used to prevent grinding; a dentist can help reshape the teeth to help them align better. Orthodontic work, too, can correct alignment issues, especially if caused by gaping or crowding.

In the most extreme cases, oral surgery may be needed to realign the jaw bone prior to preventative dental work. Recovery from TMJ is a gradual process, but chronic pain from TMJ will lessen and eventually vanish with proper diagnosis and treatment.