Should You Visit a Dentist or Physician for Jaw Pain?

Jaw Pain – How Your Dentist Can Help

February 05, 2016

Merion Village

Categories: General Dentistry

suffering from jaw painWhen considering a trip to the dentist, most of us first think about whether you should see a primary care doctor, or a dentist. There are issues your dentist can help you with that you might not have thought about, particularly with your jaw.

Jaw pain can stop you in your tracks just as fast as an infected tooth, and it can pose just as serious of a health concern. But if you have never experienced jaw pain before, you may not know what to do to get on the path to recovery.

Knowing the causes of jaw pain and how your dentist can help is a great place to start.

Why Does My Jaw Hurt?

Several issues can result in a sore, throbbing jaw. Along with other dental issues, constant teeth grinding strains the jaw muscles and can make them ache. The pain from cavities and abscessed teeth can also spread to the jaw muscles, making it hard for you to determine where the pain is coming from.

But one of the more common causes of jaw pain is a condition called Temporomandibular Disorder, usually referred to as TMJ, or more accurately, TMD.

What is TMJ?

TMJ can affect one or both sides of your face, it can actually last for years. And while doctors and scientists do not fully understand what causes it, jaw trauma has been linked to the disorder, along with teeth clenching, arthritis and stress.

TMJ can make it hard to eat. It can also affect your overall quality of life. Symptoms that are associated with it include:

  • A click or pop when moving the jaw
  • Migraines and headaches
  • The jaw locking in place
  • Pain in the neck, face and shoulders
  • Muscle spasms and soreness
  • Teeth grinding

How is TMJ Diagnosed?

Since other issues can have similar symptoms, your dentist will conduct a physical exam to determine the cause of your jaw pain.

Your dentist will listen for jaw clicks and pops, test your bite, and check for tenderness or issues with your facial muscles. He or she may also take x-rays or order an MRI to see if something other than TMJ is causing your jaw pain.

How is TMJ Treated?

There are several possible treatments for TMJ, ranging from simple to more complicated and expensive.

Some sufferers opt for surgery or for orthodontics to treat TMJ, but these options should be avoided. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, “there have been no long-term clinicals to study the safety and effectiveness of surgical treatment for TMJ disorders.”

Jaw implants are also used by some patients, but the NIDCR also counsels against this method.

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can reduce swelling and pain temporarily, but be advised that they are not a permanent fix.

The most common treatment for TMJ is the use of an oral appliance called a stabilization splint, or a bite guard.

How Bite Guards Work

A bite guard is a set of plastic mouthpieces that fit over your upper and lower teeth. These can be worn while sleeping or they can be worn all the time, depending on what your dentist determines works best for you. The purpose of a bite guard is to reduce the effects of your teeth grinding and to gently place your teeth in the correct position.

We take an impression of your teeth and make customized bite splints to fit your mouth exactly. The splint then helps your joint and jaw muscles relax, quickly addressing the symptoms of TMJ.

If jaw pain has been bothering you, we are happy to help you identify the cause and correct the issue. Visit our website to schedule a consultation today.

Learn more about how Merion Village Dental can help with jaw pain here.

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