Waking up with a headache or jaw pain once in a while may not seem like a big deal, but it could be a sign that you have an untreated issue related to your TMJ (or temporomandibular joint). This joint is responsible for the many complex movements your jaw makes when chewing, yawning, or opening your mouth in any way. When this joint becomes overworked, it becomes inflamed, putting you at risk for TMJ disorder. While jaw pain and headaches are the early signs that can develop, they are far from the only reasons to get professional care from a dentist.
Signs of Untreated TMJ Disorder
TMJ disorder (or TMD) can be difficult to diagnose without the help of a professional, but there are symptoms to keep in mind. For example, common side effects of TMD include:
- Pain or tenderness in the jaw, joint, face, neck, shoulders, or upper back
- Difficulty chewing
- Lockjaw (where the jaw becomes stuck in place after opening)
- Clicking or popping sounds from the jaw
- Toothaches, headaches, and issues with hearing
Common Long-Term Side Effects
On its own, TMD is not considered life-threatening. In the long-term, however, jaw pain and headaches are not the only issues you can develop. Other common side effects reported from those with untreated TMD include:
- Insomnia and sleep disturbance – Poor sleep quality is a common issue for those with TMD. As a result, tiredness, irritability and problems with memory or concentration become more frequent.
- Premature wear and tear of enamel – A typical precursor to TMD is teeth grinding and clenching, which can permanently break down tooth enamel.
- Changes in facial muscles – If pain only occurs on one side of your mouth, you’re more likely to exclusively use the other side to chew food. This can lead to unbalanced facial muscle growth.
- Tinnitus – Ringing or buzzing in the ears is very common for those with TMD, increasing risk for fatigue, stress, depression, memory problems, anxiety, and irritability.
- Airway sleep disorders – Commonly referred to as sleep apnea, airway sleep disorders are often correlated with TMD. This is because TMD often involves moving the lower jaw back, pushing soft tissues inside the mouth towards the back of the throat and blocking the airway. This causes lower oxygen supply during sleep, leading to chronic headaches in the morning.
- Limited diet – Those with TMD tend to consume softer diets and more liquids, which can lead to malnourishment and the development of eating disorders.
What You Can Do to Address Discomfort
If you have symptoms of TMD, the best next step you can take is scheduling an appointment with a professional who can examine your mouth. During this consultation, you can discuss your symptoms as well as learn more about potential treatments that may work for you. One common approach is oral appliance therapy, where a personalized device is created to fit your mouth exactly, then worn throughout the night as you sleep. This provides relief to your jaw joints and decreases the frequency of your symptoms.
Whether you’re experiencing headaches, jaw pain, or other side effects related to TMD, you don’t have to settle for chronic discomfort. Setting up a visit with a dentist can help you learn more about your condition and get the professional care you need to put your symptoms to rest.
About the Author
Dr. Young has been a practicing dentist in Jacksonville for decades and regularly helps patients address a wide array of TMD symptoms. Using digital impression technology, he designs highly personalized oral appliances that work to provide relief to those with chronic jaw pain, headaches, and other related side effects of TMD. To schedule an appointment with his office, you can contact him through his website.