Jaw Joint Problems
Around one in ten people in the UK have a problem with their jaw joint. Doctors call this group of conditions jaw joint dysfunction or temporomandibular disorder (TMD). They can cause pain and affect how well your jaw joint works.
Women tend to develop these jaw conditions more often than men. You can get these problems with your jaw at any age, but most people have them when they’re between 20 and 40.
About jaw joint problems
The medical name for your lower jaw is the mandible and the joint is called the temporomandibular joint. So these jaw joint problems are also called temporomandibular disorders (TMD). You might also hear them called myofascial pain disorder.
Overall, around one in ten people develop jaw joint problems at some point in their lives, but it may be as many as one in six women. Up to seven out of ten people have one of the symptoms at some point.
The jaw joint allows your jaw bone to move from side to side, backwards and forwards, and to open and close your mouth. It’s one of the most complicated joints in your body and has several muscles and ligaments allowing different movements. Because it’s so complicated, there are several different problems you may have with your jaw joint.
Symptoms of jaw joint problems
Your symptoms may include:
- pain around your jaw, cheek, ear, neck, shoulders or back
- restricted movement, making it difficult to chew – you might feel as if
- you have a locked jaw, or you may not be able to close your mouth
- popping, grating or clicking sounds, when you move your jaw
- your bite (when you put your teeth together) not feeling right
Not everyone has pain when they have jaw joint problems. Some people just have clicking and difficulty opening their mouth. If you do have pain, you may find that it gets worse as the day goes on. Symptoms may also get worse when you chew, or if you’re feeling stressed.
You may be able to manage these symptoms at home and they often get better on their own within a few months. But if you’re worried about the pain or other symptoms, go and see your dentist to find out whether treatment could help.
Painkillers that you can buy over the counter, such as paracetamol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – ie, ibuprofen, may help to relieve the pain of a jaw joint problem.
If you’re in a lot of pain, our dentist may prescribe you a muscle-relaxing medicine to help reduce the tightness and pain in your jaw. They may suggest a drug called diazepam, for example, which relaxes your muscles and can relieve spasms in the jaw. It can also reduce anxiety, which can be helpful if stress is causing you to grind or clench your teeth. Our dentist will only prescribe this for about 10 days. This is because it can be addictive if you take it for longer periods.
Medicines to help treat depression, known as antidepressants, can also be helpful to relieve pain particularly nerve pain. You might need to see your GP to get a prescription for some of these. So that you don’t have side-effects, your doctor or dentist will prescribe the lowest possible dose that treats your pain.
Sometimes jaw joint problems are caused by arthritis in your jaw joints but this is not common. It usually only happens in elderly people and jaw joint problems usually affect people between the ages of 20 and 40.
Arthritis causes inflammation (swelling) of your joints. There are different types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Both of these can affect your jaw joint, as can arthritis caused by an injury or infection.
Sometimes, injury to your jaw can cause secondary degenerative arthritis in younger people. Secondary degenerative arthritis means your arthritis is a result of another condition. This can also happen if you have had jaw joint pain for a long time. Our dentist may refer you for an X-ray to diagnose if you have arthritis in your jaw. Treatment is generally the same as for jaw joint problems.
It is important to realise that jaw joint problems, although a nuisance, are not sinister and usually respond to relatively simple measures over a period of time. Patients themselves can manage most of these treatments. Occasionally jaw joint problems may return after several years. It is very rare for jaw joint problems to progress to arthritis.