Home Dental problems Jaw Pain: The Most Common Causes and Treatments

Jaw Pain: The Most Common Causes and Treatments

by Tijana

More often, patients complain of pain in the temporomandibular joints, headaches, and neck pain. Often, the cause of these symptoms is difficult to find and correct. 

Jaw Pain

The symptoms: How is jaw pain expressed in CMD?

From now and then to chronic pain: jaw pain can occur in many ways. Everyday things, such as chewing, drinking, swallowing, or speaking, put an enormous strain on those affected with this pain.

Jaw pain is manifested by the following symptoms:

  • Rubbing, grinding, cracking of the temporomandibular joints when moving (on one or both sides)
  • Dislocation of the lower jaw or restricted mouth opening
  • painful masseter muscles, thickening of the masseter muscles
  • a headache
  • Tension and pain in the neck, shoulder, back
  • Reduced quality of life up to depressive moods
  • Grinding of teeth (bruxism)
  •  Toothache
  • Disorders in the bite (occlusion disorders)
  • Ringing in the ears up to tinnitus
  • sleep disorders

We summarize these symptoms in dentistry under the term craniomandibular disorders, also called CMD. Finding the cause of the CMD often requires a long diagnosis. It is not uncommon for the cause to remain complicated to cure.

The causes: Which risk factors favor jaw pain?

Many factors in our western society cause chronic complaints.

It transmits stress to the chewing apparatus

In stressful situations or while sleeping, we press together the teeth when there is too much stress and excessively rub them against each other on the chewing surfaces.

Besides grinding the teeth, this can also lead to severe pain in the tooth, gums, or jawbone. The teeth become sensitive to bite or develop so-called press trauma. The teeth can even become infected with the nerve of the tooth which may require root canal treatments.

Misalignments promote jaw pain

Misalignment of teeth or missing teeth also promote incorrect loading in the tooth-mouth-jaw area and can cause jaw pain and dental problems.

The teeth disperse the chewing forces over the jawbone and ultimately the jaw joint. Because of misalignments or tooth loss, these forces are transferred unevenly to the jaw muscles, bones, and jaw joints. Tension, disturbances in opening and closing the mouth, or pain in the facial area arise.

The diagnosis: how is CMD diagnosed?

Clinical functional diagnostics:

Here the practitioner feels the patient’s head and exerts pressure on the muscles. Hardened muscle groups respond to pressure with pain. Besides, the temporomandibular joint is scanned, and the position of the head and jaw are examined.

Instrumental functional diagnostics

If a CMD is suspected after the clinical examination, an instrumental functional diagnosis is carried out afterward. Even the smallest movements of the lower jaw are registered by special measuring devices.

If there are errors in the jaw’s movement, this is determined. They can then transfer the jaw movements to a joint simulator. This makes it easier to analyze and plan individual therapy for craniomandibular disorders. However, this diagnosis is overly complex and is not paid for by the statutory health insurance companies.

The treatment: what helps against jaw pain?

With pain therapy for jaw pain

In the beginning, the symptoms can still be pseudo-treated with standard painkillers. It helps patients to get rid of symptoms more quickly and at brief notice. However, pain medication does not fix the cause of the pain.

Specialists help with CMD / bruxism

As the symptoms worsen as the disease progresses, a visit to your dentist is a priority. Some dentists specialize in CMD.

Your dentist will take a detailed anamnesis of your pain symptoms and an examination and diagnosis to find the cause of your symptoms. In special cases, x-rays of the temporomandibular joint are made in specialized x-ray centers, although not all the dentists have these devices.

Bite splints ease the nocturnal crunch

The first step in treating jaw pain is usually splint therapy.

The dentist will take impressions of your jaw for this. The dental technician can then produce models of your rows of teeth and make an individually fitting bite splint. This is a transparent plastic splint that you can slide onto a row of teeth.

The so-called grinding splint now prevents wear and tear of the tooth substance from the nightly pressing. The jaw joint is also relieved by separating the rows of teeth from one another. Ultimately, the plastic splint should interrupt the pathological control loop of the masticatory muscles: cramped muscles should be relaxed by changing their position.

Usually, the pain is significantly improved at first. However, if there is a pronounced dysfunction or a wrong bite, the splint is only the first step in the treatment plan.

Additional help from physiotherapy

If the muscles involved are very tense, we recommend physiotherapy besides this splint. This loosens the chewing and neck muscles. The therapist can also show you simple exercises to do at home that, if used regularly, can help loosen muscles. Applying mud after the treatment can deepen the relaxation achieved.

When choosing your physiotherapy practice, look for therapists with CMD training.

Permanent correction of tooth contacts

If the entire occlusal position is incorrect, it should be corrected accordingly. We can compensate smaller incorrect contacts with fillings. New crowns or new dentures can also improve the bite.

In extreme cases, for example, when the teeth are heavily worn from grinding teeth at night, the bite must be completely raised. Then every single tooth must be built up with fillings (to get used to it) and later with partial crowns or crowns.

Temporomandibular joint problems can only be permanently resolved with an even bite and a correct bite height.

What can I do with jaw pain myself?

You can often improve your symptoms with minor changes or exercises in everyday life.

The following measures can help:

  • local heat application to loosen muscles and relieve pain
  • Give the chewing muscles and jaws an additional breakthrough soft, muddy food
  • avoid prolonged chewing, such as chewing gum
  • Everyday exercises can also minimize stress: ask your physiotherapist or dentist to show you simple relaxation exercises
  • Regular exercise relaxes tense muscles. Thus, the jaws, the temporomandibular joints, and thus also the teeth are relieved by physical activity.

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