Jaw pain is not an uncommon ailment. Causes include heart attack, trauma, tooth decay, and more. A dentist can help with a few of these causes. One of the most common non-heart causes originates in the joint of the jaw, known as the temporomandibular joint or TMJ. The temporomandibular joint is located just in front of the ear where the cheek bone and the bone of the lower jaw meet. It is a hinged joint, but can also generate a sliding motion, which is a necessary part of chewing. Not all TMJ based joint pain has a known cause, but of the known causes, grinding of the teeth is the most common.
In general, Jaw pain due to TMJ problems results from the degradation of the cushioning material within the TMJ. Treatment or prevention of this problem depends on the cause and severity within the joint. As mentioned earlier, grinding of the teeth is the most common cause of TMJ based jaw pain. Other causes can include arthritis, damage through trauma, or problems with alignment.
When jaw pain has become consistent or persistent, meaning, it is present regularly or most of the time, a person should seek treatment for TMJ. Those with the occasional clicking sound, or pain or tenderness infrequently and sporadically, probably do not need treatment for TMJ problems. Problems opening and closing the jaw indicate more severe problems, and treatment should be sought. Difficulty with chewing, other facial pain, and pain in the ear area can also indicate TMJ problems. Any of these symptoms in combination make it more likely to be a TMJ problem.
A doctor or a dentist is likely to ask a variety of questions when seeing a patient who is complaining of jaw pain. These questions help them understand the quality and frequency of the pain, and how long the patient has been suffering from their symptoms. They are likely to ask when the symptoms began, if it has ever happened before, and if there have been headaches or toothaches at the same time. They will need to know if the pain is frequent, and if it is constant or not. They will ask about noises when moving the joint, and about difficulty in opening the mouth. Questions about stress levels, and recent changes to lifestyle or stress can help the dentist determine whether night time teeth grinding behavior is likely. They will ask if a patient thinks there is a particular trigger for the pain. Another important question that a doctor or dentist will ask for most examinations is whether a patient is taking medications, supplements, vitamins, or other herbal remedies. These questions give the dentist a good look at the symptoms themselves, and their possible causes. A patient’s answer to these questions may cause the dentist to ask further questions in order to rule out and rule in possibilities for jaw pain.