Chronic facial pain may be symptom of temporomandibular joint disorder

Do you suffer from chronic facial pain, including constant pain in or around your ears, sore jaw, ringing in your ears, clicking or popping sounds when you open or close your mouth or chronic headaches and neck pain? Do you often feel like your jaw is stuck open or closed? Do you feel as though you have a limited opening of your mouth?

If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions, the Pennsylvania Dental Association (PDA) recommends talking to your dentist about your symptoms as you may be suffering from a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD).

TMDs refer to problems that affect the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), otherwise known as the jaw joint, and facial muscles. It is important to understand that TMD is not a specific condition, but rather a general term used to describe a misalignment with the jaw joint.

The pain often associated with TMDs can be caused by sinus problems, toothaches, direct impact to the jaw, prolonged teeth grinding, muscle spasms caused by stress, arthritis, jaw tumors or an early stage of periodontal (gum) disease. Symptoms may occur on one or both sides of the face, head or jaw. Through an oral exam, exam of the head and neck muscles and X-rays, dentists can oftentimes diagnose the source of chronic facial pain and recommend an appropriate treatment option.

"A thorough neuromuscular exam for the TMD patient should involve a complete health history, assessment of signs and symptoms, muscle evaluation by utilizing a computer to measure muscle activity (EMG), sonography (listening and recording sounds of the joint) and computerized jaw tracking," said Dr. Alexandra George, a PDA member and neuromuscular dentist from Wexford who has treated many TMD patients.

Depending on the diagnosis, your dentist may refer you to a physician or specialist for treatment. There are several treatment options for TMDs, including:

  • Muscle relaxants.
  • Stress-reducing exercises.
  • Wearing a special mouthguard designed to prevent teeth grinding or clenching.
  • Bite adjustment.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Replacement of missing teeth.

TMDs affect approximately 10.8 million Americans.

SOURCE Pennsylvania Dental Association

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