When your jaw isn’t hurting, you don’t think of all the things you use it for. But when it starts to hurt, you begin to realize that it’s not just eating and talking that rely on your jaw. Every breath, every incidental swallow, every expression, and even muscle motions that seem to have nothing to do with your jaw can become painful. Jaw pain related to TMJ can come from several sources and can have far-reaching consequences, but TMJ treatment can help, no matter the source or effects of your jaw pain.
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How TMJ Can Cause Jaw Pain
Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ– sometimes TMD or TMJD) results in a dysfunction of the jaw that can create pain in several different ways, including:
- Muscle soreness
- Joint inflammation
- Pinched nerves
- Bone soreness
These different types of jaw pain can intersect and overlap. Sometimes, you will start with only one type of jaw pain, often muscle soreness, but then develop others, such as joint inflammation, pinched nerves, and bone soreness, over time.
Changes in jaw pain are often indicators that your TMJ is worsening, and a reminder that it’s best to get TMJ treated in its early stages, before damage to other systems develops.
Muscle soreness is the most common type of jaw pain associated with TMJ. Your jaw muscles are an integrated system, and they should work together to ensure the optimal functioning of your jaw. In TMJ, the harmonious interplay of muscles can be disrupted. This means some of your muscles have to work harder than they should, and it may even be impossible for your muscles to find a comfortable relaxation position.
The resulting muscle soreness may at first be related to chewing or talking, but can become perpetual. It’s often related to tension headaches.
TMJ doesn’t always mean that your joint is actually involved—it’s a complex spectrum of disorders—but when your jaw joint is involved, it can be painful. Extra pressure on the tissues of the jaw joint can make them tender and sensitive, so that every motion or strain will cause pain in the jaw joint.
Joint inflammation may also be related to the displacement of the cushioning disk that is supposed to separate the temporal bone in the skull from the jawbone, or mandible. When this disk is displaced—you may experience jaw popping or clicking or irregular jaw motion—the pressure of the joint rests on the ligaments supposed to secure the disk, but not designed to bear the weight of the joint, so it can suffer pain.
Bone damage can also occur once the disk is displaced.
The jaw system is also host to a complex network of nerves. When jaw muscles get overactive or when the jaw joint is displaced, these nerves can be put under pressure. This can result in a sharp, electric pain, tingling, numbness, and maybe even other sensations like tinnitus.
The trigeminal nerve and its branches are commonly pinched in this way, which can lead to migraines.
With the jaw muscles striving to find their most comfortable position, they can push the teeth and bones together with excessive force, what is called bruxism. The result of this can be damage and wear to the teeth, but also soreness in the bones themselves. This bone soreness should be taken as a warning, as the excessive pressures related to TMJ and bruxism can lead to bone loss around the teeth as well as in the jaw joint.