Like many of the medical ailments that people experience today, TMJ—also known as TMD—is not a modern problem. The first known mention of TMJ in medicine was in 1887 in an article describing two women who experienced locked jaw and resulting pain after that.
TMD stands for temporomandibular joint disorder. It is a condition that results from jaw misalignment. Jaw misalignment causes stress on the temporomandibular joint and trigeminal nerve, resulting in pain. Your temporomandibular joints sit on either side of your head, just in front of your ears. These joints connect your mandible (lower jaw) to your skull. Your trigeminal nerve runs through your jaw joint and is responsible for providing sensation to your face and skull and stimulating jaw movement such as chewing. Your trigeminal nerve is the largest of your cranial nerves, and our jaw joints get a lot of use throughout the day. It’s easy to see why pain caused by TMJ disorder can be impairing.
Yet, many people dismiss their pain because it isn’t bad enough to warrant a doctor visit, don’t want to use their hard-earned money on it, take the time to go, or are anxious about what their doctor will have to say. If you are experiencing TMJ symptoms but avoiding diagnosis and treatment, you only worsen your condition.
Chronic Jaw Pain
Most of us know that pain is our body’s way of telling us something is wrong. While many TMJ cases are temporary, some are persistent and need intervention. Your jaw pain could be joint pain experienced with the flu, a cold, or unexpected trauma that will resolve with time and rest. In other circumstances, your jaw pain may be due to a misalignment of the jaw joints that won’t resolve on its own. If you’re experiencing TMJ symptoms such as facial pain, headaches, neck and shoulder pain, and ear-related symptoms for more than eight days in a row, it’s time to consider that you may need medical intervention.
If your persistent jaw pain goes untreated, your body will increase the severity and longevity, letting you know more urgently that something is wrong. The painful TMJ symptoms will affect your quality of life and prevent you from doing the things you love and keeping up your responsibilities.
Chronic jaw pain is your body’s direct way of telling you that something is off. However, you may also begin to experience chronic headaches and migraines. TMJ headaches stem directly from swelling and inflammation in muscles surrounding your temporomandibular joint. These muscles often refer pain to other muscles and ligaments in your head. Your consequence is a headache.
Linking TMJ to chronic migraines is less straightforward as migraines are not fully understood. However, researchers theorize that the trigeminal nerve plays a role in the headache part of the migraine. Since the nerve runs through your temporomandibular joint, it’s not a far jump to see that TMJ could increase the frequency and severity of your migraines.
If your TMJ is left untreated, your headaches and migraines will only worsen.
Jaw Joint Damage
If you were driving your car and heard scrapping, you would stop the car, so you didn’t damage it further and get it fixed. Your jaw joint is the same way. When you have pain, hear a scraping or popping sound, or in severe cases, experience the alarming condition of locked jaw, you should stop use and get it treated. If you continue to use your jaw joint while it’s misaligned, your inflammation and pain will worsen, and your treatment will likely be longer and more expensive. Of course, it’s very difficult to discontinue the use of your jaw since you need it to talk and chew. Getting it treated quickly is your best bet not to damage it further.
An often overlooked but long-term consequence of untreated TMJ is damage to your teeth. Bruxism—grinding your teeth—is one of the most common symptoms and can sometimes be a telltale sign of TMJ.
When you’re habitually grinding your teeth, the first thing you’ll notice is jaw tiredness and soreness. Next, you’ll feel pain in your jaw and teeth, and finally, your teeth will begin to shorten from the wear, crack, or chip. Eventually, tooth loss could occur. You may avoid grinding your teeth during the day if you know that you do it. However, many with TMJ grind their teeth at night, which is more difficult to halt or even know that you’re doing early on in your condition. If you sleep with a loved one, ask them if they can hear you grinding your teeth during the night.
Worn teeth, cracked teeth, chipped teeth, and broken teeth cause pain in the tooth’s nerve, impair function, and cause surrounding teeth to bear a more significant burden to which they’ll also become damaged. Untreated TMJ can induce difficult chewing, difficult speech, an unattractive smile, tooth pain, and more money out the door to get your teeth fixed.
Suffering Mental Health
Your suffering mental health is another long-term, not so easily fixed, consequence of untreated TMJ. Think of it like this, when you’re not feeling well, you avoid social situations, miss days of work, and feel little enjoyment in your hobbies. In other words, you miss a massive part of the human experience. It doesn’t affect your mental health too much if you’re temporarily sick. But if it’s chronic, like untreated TMJ, this lack of social interaction, purpose, and enjoyment is long-lasting and will take a toll on your mental health.
Development of Other Disorders
A misaligned jaw can cause other conditions like obstructive sleep apnea and snoring. While snoring alone may not seem like a big deal, it can develop into sleep apnea and cause unrest in your house. Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which the soft tissues in your airway sag and cut your body and brain off from oxygen while you sleep. These pauses in breathing last until your body panics at the lingering carbon dioxide or lack of oxygen and wakes you up to resume breathing. If your jaw is already misaligned, causing you to have a small airway, to begin with, sleep apnea could be in your future.
TMJ Treatment in St. Louis
If you’re experiencing TMJ symptoms lasting more than a week, contact our TMJ dentist in St. Louis. Dr. Chris Hill is an experienced neuromuscular dentist who can diagnose and treat your TMJ so you can get your life back. SmileOn Dental Studio and Dr. Hill are focused on dentistry designed for you, which means that you can get a treatment plan specific to you and your TMJ without surgery. Dr. Hill’s non-invasive techniques provide patients with a cure that can last them a lifetime. What are you waiting for? Call (314) 678-7876 or schedule an appointment online today.