Do I Need to Treat My TMJ Pain?
by Dr. Scott Bolding | Oct. 12, 2021
Do I need to treat TMJ pain? What are the effects of untreated TMJ pain? Will TMJ pain go away on its own?
Many people who are experiencing pain in their jaw joint find themselves asking these questions.
Like with most other medical issues, the long-term effects of untreated TMJ disorders vary from patient to patient. However, you do need to treat TMJ pain to make sure things don’t get worse. Many patients suffer from mild TMJ pain and are able to find relief after a couple of days and conservative treatments. But if you continue to experience jaw joint pain for a long period of time, not treating it can lead to severe damage in the joint. A lot of the time, patients try to deal with the pain and other symptoms of a TMJ disorder on their own without getting the help they need.
But not treating TMJ pain will only cause more damage to the joint. Untreated TMJ disorders will only get worse as time goes on.
“One of the things as surgeons, operating on the jaw joint and seeing as many patients as we do with TMJ disorders, is I really wish that we would treat these conditions earlier,” says Dr. Bolding.
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What is a TMJ Disorder?
TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. The TMJ is the joint that connects your jawbone to your skull. You have one on both sides of your face. Your jaw joint acts as a hinge that allows you to open and close your mouth and move your jaw side to side.
When there is pain in your jaw joint, it is known as a TMJ disorder. Pain in your TMJ can happen for a number of different reasons, including arthritis, injuries, and even stress. Poor jaw alignment and teeth grinding can also cause issues with your jaw joint.
For many patients, TMJ pain can be mild. In this case, you may wake up one day with some pain in your jaw joint. Most of the time, mild jaw joint pain can be treated conservatively. More severe TMJ disorders occur when there is significant damage to the jaw joint. These TMJ disorders will likely need to be treated surgically in order for you to find permanent relief.
You Need to Treat TMJ Pain
Whether or not you need to talk to your doctor about your jaw pain depends on how severe it is and how long it lasts. Mild TMJ pain can be treated at home with pain medication, ice/heat therapy, and rest.
However, if the pain in your joint lasts for a long time and is accompanied by other signs and symptoms, you should talk to your doctor as soon as possible. Persisting jaw pain can be a sign that there is a more serious issue going on inside the joint. Other symptoms of a more serious TMJ disorder include:
- Clicking in the jaw joint
- Ear pain
- Worn down teeth
- Difficulty or pain when eating
- Headaches and migraines
- Difficulty opening your mouth or moving your jaw side to side
You Need to Treat TMJ Pain Early
Like with any other medical condition, TMJ disorders need to be treated early in order to prevent further damage to the jaw joint. While it may be tempting to ignore the pain and hope it goes away, you need to remember that pain is your body’s way of telling you something’s wrong. And the only way to keep things from getting worse is to figure out the root cause of your pain and treat it accordingly. If the jaw joint isn’t functioning properly due to a torn ligament, or any other type of damage, it can cause other problems long-term.
For example, in the jaw joint, there is a disc called the synovial disc. This disc contains fluid that provides lubrication and nutrition to the joint. The synovial disc is crucial for the function of your TMJ. If there is any kind of damage to the jaw joint, the synovial fluid may not be able to cover the cartilage cells that surround the joint. If the cartilage cells don’t get the synovial fluid they need, they begin to wear down and thin. Over time, the bones underneath the cartilage will then also begin to break down. As the bone deteriorates, it can actually cause the jaw joint to shift. This shift can lead to worn-down teeth. If the jaw shifts backward, it can also lead to more serious issues like obstructive sleep apnea.
You need to treat TMJ pain early so you can stay healthy.
So, How Do You Treat TMJ Disorders?
The treatment we provide will depend on the diagnosis. Some TMJ disorders can be treated non-surgically with mouth guards. Other more mild treatments include
- Over-the-counter pain medication
- Resting the joint
- Going on a soft food diet
- Ice/heat therapy
For more severe cases, surgery may be the only way to keep your TMJ pain from getting worse. You should consider surgical treatment for your TMJ disorder, especially if you have a torn ligament or displaced disc. Repositioning the disc means that the synovial fluid can flow over the cartilage cells the way it’s supposed. This ensures that your jaw joint stays healthy.
Collins, K. (2022b, November 9). What Happens When TMJ Goes Untreated? Collins Dentistry & Aesthetics. https://www.wemakespokanevalleysmile.com/blog/what-happens-when-tmj-goes-untreated/
The Long-Term Effects of Untreated TMJ | TMJ Plus. (2021, August 2). TMJ Plus Wellness Center. https://www.tmjplus.com/the-long-term-effects-of-untreated-tmj/
The Dangers of Untreated TMJ | Robert Rosenfeld, DDS | Solana Beach, CA. (2017, February 18). Robert Rosenfeld DDS. https://www.robertrosenfelddds.com/dangers-of-untreated-tmj/
You Need to Treat Your TMJ Pain Early
Yes, you do need to treat TMJ pain early. If your TMJ disorder is mild, you should be able to treat it conservatively with over-the-counter pain medication and heat/ice therapy. Resting the joint by going on a soft food diet can also help prevent further damage. However, if these treatments do not help you find the relief you’re looking for, you should talk to your doctor or a specialist as early as possible. Talk to someone who understands what is going on inside your jaw joint. They may be able to uncover the root cause and offer more suitable treatment options.