Mysterious jaw pain can come on suddenly and leave sufferers wondering what’s going on. Jaw pain can often be accompanied by other pain throughout the body, such as neck pain, back pain, tinnitus, headaches and even gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. When these conditions are present, it can be a signal that there is a bigger problem at hand. That jaw pain may be more than simple pain – it can be a condition called temporomandibular joint dysfunction.
Temporomandibular joint dysfunction occurs when a misalignment of the jaw from the temporomandibular joint occurs – whether from genetics or from an injury such as a broken jaw. Other causes may include grinding your teeth, but grinding your teeth can also be a side effect, according to Dr. Raul Garcia, a Miami, Florida, dentist who specializes in treating temporomandibular joint dysfunction.
“Temporomandibular joint dysfunction has many causes, but the treatment for this condition is usually the same,” Garcia says.
Treatment plans often include things like physiologic dentistry, which realigns the jaw joints into their optimal place, allowing the temporomandibular joint to fit properly inside the jaw bones. Best of all, it can improve your smile in the process, too. Other quick-fix treatments, according to Garcia, are just a Band-Aid.
“I recommend avoiding using things like Botox to treat temporomandibular joint dysfunction,” says Garcia. “It only masks the problem, it’s expensive, and it’s usually not covered by insurance. When you’re getting shots every three months, it really adds up over time, and you still have the same problem.”
Garcia says there are some things patients can do while undergoing treatment to make the pain less severe.
“There is physical therapy for your jaw, believe it or not,” he says. “And altering your diet to softer foods has also been met with success.”
Other methods include using a bite guard if you grind your teeth.
“Bite guards take the impact off your teeth and channel it into the guard itself,” Garcia says. “It might not stop the grinding altogether, but it lessens some of the pressure, which could benefit the jaw.”
Garcia also recommends icing the jaw if the pain becomes severe, but again this is just a temporary fix, and not always possible, especially at work or in times of high stress, when jaw clenching and teeth grinding are more likely to be a problem.
“It’s really important to address the problem head on,” Garcia says. “That is the only permanent way to stop the temporomandibular joint dysfunction in its tracks.”