Diagnosing Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome (TMJ)

By Aaron Strickland, D.D.S. on March 19, 2018

TMJ, Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome, White River Dental, Columbus Indiana Dentist

Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome (TMJ) is defined as pain in the joint connecting the lower jaw to the skull in front of the ear. When the joint is damaged or injured, it can lead to the disorder TMJ. The injured temporomandibular joint leads to pain with chewing, clicking, crackling, and popping of the jaw.

Diagnosing TMJ Syndrome

 During a physical exam, the doctor or dentist listens to and feels the jaw when the mouth opens and closes, observe the range of motion in the jaw, and presses on the areas around the jaw to identify areas of pain or discomfort. To have a definite diagnosis, the doctor will use TMJ arthroscopy. The doctor will insert a small, thin tube into the joint space with a camera in order to view the area of interest.

What are the Symptoms of TMJ Syndrome?

The symptoms surrounding TMJ disorder are not completely understood as multiple factors contribute to the muscle tightness and the symptoms can be diagnosed as other oral disorders. The main symptom of TMJ syndrome is pain in the jaw joint and involves the face, eyes, forehead, ears, and neck. Signs and symptoms of TMJ syndrome include:

  • Pain or tenderness in the jaw
  • Pain similar to a toothache
  • Ear pain or sounds of cracking in the ears
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Tight, stiff, or sore jaw and neck muscles
  • Jaw muscle spasms
  • Pain at the base of tongue
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Shoulder pain

Risks of Untreated TMJ Syndrome

 For most patients, TMJ is managed without lasting impacts. However, TMJ leads to chronic jaw pain, recurring headaches, other lingering effects. The effects of TMJ depend on the source of the condition like physical stress on the jaw joints, connected tissues, and nerves of the skull and jaw. There are a number of factors that may contribute to the stress:

  • A bite condition (under or overbite)
  • A misaligned jaw
  • Teeth grinding
  • Trauma or injury to the jaw

Individuals who suffer from one of these conditions do not necessarily develop TMJ syndrome. In some cases, symptoms associated with TMJ syndrome like jaw discomfort or migraine-like headaches are temporary. In other instances, they can grow progressively worse.

TMJ syndrome is not a life-threatening disorder but without treatment, the symptoms can negatively affect the quality of a patient’s life over time. Jaw clicking is one of the most reported indicators of TMJ syndrome and is linked others like intense headaches, neck, shoulder and back pain, ringing in the ears, and sometimes depression. 

What are the Treatments for TMJ Syndrome?

 TMJ syndrome includes a wide range of disorders that tend to overlap. They include:

  • Muscle problems that affect jaw movement
  • Pain in the face around the jaw joint
  • Problems within the joint

Many symptoms of TMJ syndrome respond to home remedies, stress reduction, and relaxation techniques. Some of the home remedies include:

  • Applying ice or cold packs to the joint area
  • Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil or Aleve
  • Eating a diet of soft foods and avoiding chewing gum

As shown above, experiencing undiagnosed pain is a stressful experience, especially if it involves the mouth or jaw. White River Dental is designed to meet the dental needs of patients and is devoted to comprehensive, preventive, and emergency patient care. White River Dental treats TMJ-related oral problems, TMJ-caused teeth complications, and refer patients to trusted TMJ syndrome specialists outside the practice. To relieve anxiety and stress, contact White River Dental to schedule an appointment with their specialists to have a pain-free tomorrow.

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