The jaw gets a lot of use. Eating, speaking, yawning and more rely on the temporomandibular joint to open and close the mouth. The temporomandibular joint (or TMJ for short) is located on either side of the face where the jaw meets the skull. This pair of joints (one on each side) is responsible for the hinge-type movement of the jaw. If this hinge becomes damaged, falls out of alignment, or suffers any number aggravating factors, temporomandibular joint disorders can occur.
Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMDs, often broadly referred to as TMJ) affect millions of people worldwide. In the United States alone estimates place the number of people suffering from TMJ at over 10 million, with the exact number likely much higher. The real numbers are difficult to pin down – many people are unaware they suffer a TMD, leaving countless cases without a formal diagnosis. TMDs often begin as painless inconveniences, such as clicking or popping in the jaw, or difficulty with jaw movement. Over time, TMDs/TMJ can develop into much more severe symptoms, eventually affecting daily life and activities.
What is TMJ?
A temporomandibular joint disorder can occur due to injury, illness, genetics, lifestyle and more. The signs and symptoms vary as much as the causes, and can be challenging to connect to dentistry. TMDs can develop when the TMJ becomes damaged, inflamed, loses alignment or through other trauma. These joints are protected by cartilage, preventing the bones from impacting each other. If this cartilage becomes damaged or lost, or the jaw alignment affects its ability to protect the joint it can lead to painful discomfort and more.
In many cases, it can be difficult for patients to match the symptoms of TMJ to a dental issue. The signs and symptoms of TMJ can occur across the upper body and oftentimes, are mistaken for other ailments. Headaches and nausea lead many to blame migraines and environmental factors, while those suffering muscle discomfort may try massages, new mattresses, physical therapy and more to no avail. One of the most difficult symptoms for many to connect to TMJ and TMDs is an earache.
TMJ and Earaches
The TMJ is located just beneath the ear. This means that when the jaw moves, it can place undue strain on the ear canal and surrounding area. Those suffering from TMJ may have trouble with jaw alignment, overuse or overexertion of facial muscles, injury to the jaw area and more. Any number of traumas to the TMJ can increase the impact of jaw movement on the ear canal, leading to ear discomfort, or earaches. All too often ear discomfort is mistaken for an infection, delaying effective dental treatment.
When suffering from earaches, most people schedule an appointment with their doctor or ENT specialist. In many cases, it can be challenging for sufferers to connect symptoms manifesting in other areas of the body, such as the upper body, ear, and head to their dentistry. The muscles and other systems in the body are interconnected. When those in one area are subject to strain, injury, or other trauma the others may attempt to compensate – even to their own detriment. This leads to many cases of TMJ going without a diagnosis, and countless unnecessary trips to the doctor’s office while the TMJ symptoms can multiply and potentially worsen.
Relief from TMJ Earaches and Symptoms
Until recently, TMJ treatments primarily included temporary solutions and preventative measures. With the latest advancements in neuromuscular dentistry, permanent relief from TMJ is now available. In many cases, TMDs and TMJ can be corrected by repositioning the jaw, alleviating the strain placed on the jaw, ear canal, facial muscles and more.
It’s estimated over 1 in every 10 Americans has TMJ or a TMD, and that number is likely to increase. If you’re suffering from inexplicable pain in the ear, contact a dentist for a TMJ evaluation. Permanent TMJ treatment can help alleviate a number of painful symptoms across the upper body. To find out more about permanent TMJ relief, schedule an appointment with a dentist in your area to discuss TMDs and potential treatments.