Jaw pain can be debilitating and deeply distressing. It originates from problems with the temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ), for which there are many causes.
The TMJ is prone to becoming dysfunctional in a variety of ways because of the range of pressures it’s put under; we use it to eat and speak but we also might grind our teeth if we’re under stress. If there are any underlying issues with the teeth or the bite then it’s not surprising that over time they will play out in the form of jaw pain.
Some common symptoms
Inability to open or close the jaw
Clicking of the jaw joint
TMJ disorders can be linked to stress, debilitating earaches and lockjaw. Bruxism (teeth grinding) affects about 1 in 4 adults in the UK, with symptoms that can include an aching jaw, headaches, gum problems and the erosion of tooth enamel. The pressure on the teeth during grinding can be 5 times greater than when eating and, as a result, incisors can end up shorter with sharp edges and tiny chip marks, canines can end up covered in notches and teeth can work loose, with fillings being lost.
Causes of jaw pain
Teeth grinding (bruxism) due to stress
Teeth in a poor position when the mouth is closed
Strain caused by previous loss of back teeth
Once the correct diagnosis is made, treatment might involve dietary advice, jaw exercises and splint therapy to help reposition and protect the jaws, and often we ask patients to wear a splint over their teeth at night.
Splints provide a stable platform for the teeth to make contact, easing stress on the muscles. They are useful in situations where patients are prone to grinding and are concerned that the enamel is being worn away by cracking or chipping, and they can also help in situations where patients suffer from sensitive teeth.
In these situations, it is often worth looking at whether the positions of the teeth can be reorganised using orthodontic therapy to ease these stresses.
Establishing a balanced bite, particularly following the loss of back teeth, is the key to resolving difficulties caused by TMJ disorder and this can be a lengthy process that also involves restorative and implant dentistry. It’s always worth it though.