Suffering from jaw pain and not knowing why can be stressful and even alarming.
Temporomandibular disorder has many symptoms and just as many possible causes. However, it’s not incredibly uncommon. In fact, anywhere from 5% to 12% of people in America suffer from it.
What is unusual, however, is that the majority of people with TMD are younger, whereas sufferers of other chronic diseases tend to be in an older demographic.
To understand TMD and it’s symptoms, read on for our top 10 most common causes of jaw pain.
Temporomandibular disorder refers to pain of the joints and muscles of the face and jaw. This creates mild to intense jaw pain, especially when chewing. However, it can also make talking difficult.
TMD is often mistakenly referred to as TMJ. TMJ, however, refers to the temporomandibular joint associated with TMD.
TMD can be incredibly painful, although some symptoms are a lot more manageable. These symptoms can be acute, suddenly appearing from nowhere, or chronic, causing pain or discomfort for years.
Difficulty Chewing – with jaw pain and tenderness in the muscles and joints, chewing food or gum can be incredibly painful.
Locked Jaw -occasionally, TMD can create an issue where the jaw gets locked or stuck in an open or closed position.
Limited Mobility – jaw pain in the muscles and joints can make it difficult or impossible to be able to fully open your mouth.
Swelling – with pain and inflammation often comes swelling. Those suffering from TMD commonly have swollen areas around the jaw.
Fatigued Muscles – pain, discomfort, and swelling can create excess tension in your face and jaw muscles, causing fatigue.
Audible Feedback – people suffering from TMD will often hear clicking, grinding, and popping sounds. This happens while chewing, speaking, or yawning.
Pain and Discomfort -pain and discomfort can be felt in the face and jaw, and also in unexpected areas like the neck and shoulders.
Causes of Jaw Pain
While there are no absolute causes that doctors are aware of, many things can trigger symptoms of TMD. Additionally, because many of the side effects of TMD can be caused by a multitude of things, it’s difficult to find a direct cause.
Fortunately, much of the jaw pain and discomfort associated with TMD is acute and easily managed.
Physically traumatic injuries are often associated with TMD. For example, car accidents can cause whiplash, which can severely damage the muscles in the neck and head, leading to TMD symptoms.
Alternatively, direct impact to the head or face, especially near the jaw can have similar effects. Depending on the intensity of the blow, the temporomandibular joint or jaw bone can be dislocated or otherwise damaged.
Whether from genetics or previous trauma, developing arthritis in the temporomandibular joint can be a cause of TMD. In fact, 90% of Rheumatoid Arthritis sufferers also experience jaw pain.
This leads many medical professionals to believe that the RA and TMD are directly related.
3. Disc Erosion
Jaw pain and other TMD symptoms can be caused by disk erosion. Erosion of the TMJ disc can be incredibly painful and lead to asymmetries in the jaw, throwing off its natural alignment.
4. Disc Displacement
Like disc erosion, disc displacement can lead to TMD symptoms. This can be caused by physical trauma, disc erosion, genetic deformities, or arthritis of the TMJ.
5. Grinding or Clenching Your Teeth
Grinding and clenching your teeth is known as Bruxism. Severe Bruxism can lead to developing TMD or exacerbate an existing condition.
Constantly grinding your teeth and damage your teeth, creating a misaligned bite. Additionally, forcing your teeth together with a misaligned bite can lead to repositioning your TMJ to an improper position, causing more problems.
Finally, Bruxism can stress and fatigue in your face and jaw muscles, contributing to more TMD symptoms.
On a side note, Bruxism is also a leading factor in tooth and gum pain, separate from TMD.
6. Excessive Flexion of Face and Jaw Muscles
TMD due to fatigue in the face and jaw muscles can be caused by several things.
As stated above, constantly grinding and clenching your teeth is a major factor. However, stress, headaches, and pain in other areas of your body may cause involuntary tightening of the face, neck, and jaw muscles as well.
7. Gum Chewing
Surprisingly, an exorbitance of gum chewing can also lead to TMD. Excessive gum chewing can over-tax the jaw and face muscles, creating fatigue and even soreness.
While recent data shows the use of orthodontics to be an unlikely cause of TMD, it’s still worth mentioning.
Braces and headgear are designed to realign improperly positioned teeth. A lot of tension is used in these devices to correct this condition. This tension can lead to jaw pain and discomfort.
9. Poor Posture
One of the most indirect possible causes of TMD is poor posture. Poor posture is a cascading effect.
As we spend our days slouching or slumped over at our jobs, generally over computers and paperwork, we can start changing our body’s natural alignment.
First, our spine starts to reposition, especially as we are sitting hunched over. This causes our lower jaw to jut out, which over time can lead to a misaligned bite. And we already know how that can lead to TMD.
10. Autoimmune Diseases
Autoimmune diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and Systemic Sclerosis can also cause TMD.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is a condition in which your immune system attacks your own body. The attacking antibodies target synovium that surrounds joints. The resulting chemical and toxin release from the attack deteriorates joints over time.
As the joint deteriorates, it becomes painful and misshapen, potentially coming out of alignment.
Systemic Sclerosis presents as fibrosis and vascular alterations. This can cause TMD symptoms by locking the jaw and creating jaw pain.
SS can also cause muscular atrophy, in which muscle break down and become weak.
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