Pain and discomfort in and around your mouth indicate a problem with your teeth, gums, or jawbone. Pain can affect how you eat, drink, speak, and smile. It can also result in other issues, like a migraine. That is why you must see a dentist immediately after you experience pain. TMJ disorders, or TMDs, cause tenderness and pain in the jaw and surrounding ligaments and muscles. The excruciating pain can make it hard to continue your daily activities. Its causes include jaw injuries, teeth grinding, and everyday wear and tear.

The good news is that there is treatment for TMJ/TMD. Your dentist will choose a treatment according to the condition’s severity. For example, they can recommend physical therapy, medication, surgery, or customized mouthguards to alleviate the pain and treat the underlying condition.

Our general dentists at Washington Dental have extensive skills and experience treating TMJs. We are your best choice if you need proper TMJ diagnosis, treatment, and management in Carson. We use state-of-the-art technology to offer the entire family quality and timely dental care.

An Overview of TMJs/TMDs

The temporomandibular joints are hinges that connect the jaw and the skull’s temporal bones located at the front of the ears. These joints allow you to move your mouth up, down, and sideways. These movements enable you to chew, yawn, bite, and talk. Any issues with these joints and the facial muscles that control them are called temporomandibular disorders. Sometimes dentists refer to them as TMJs after the jaw joint.

Therefore, TMJ dysfunctions, or TMDs, are all the conditions that affect the jaw joints and their surrounding ligaments and muscles. The conditions are many and could result in several issues like headaches, jaw pain, and difficulties when opening and closing the mouth.

A human being has two temporomandibular joints, or TMJs. They are located on each side of the face, right in front of the ears. These TMJs connect the lower jawbone to the skull, enabling the jaws to move with minimal resistance when you speak or chew. But sometimes, these joints develop issues that cause pain and difficulties when opening or moving your mouth.

TMDs are very common, especially among adults. While age is a likely factor in causing TMD, other reasons for its occurrence include unhealthy habits like teeth grinding and chewing complex substances like ice. However, you can seek treatment for TMD immediately after experiencing pain.

Sometimes, it is difficult to determine the cause of pain in or around your mouth. However, a skilled general dentist will conduct an oral examination to assess the genesis of your pain, diagnose its cause, and devise a treatment plan suitable for your needs.

To come up with an effective treatment for patients with TMDs, dentists classify these disorders as follows:

  • Jaw joint disorders.
  • Chewing muscle disorders.
  • Headaches associated with TMDs.

Your dentist will develop a treatment plan according to the exact type of TMD you have.

Symptoms of TMD

A problem in the temporomandibular joint will cause discomfort and pain in and around your mouth. The pain can last for a while or linger for years. If left untreated, it can worsen, make eating difficult, or even smile. The disorder can affect one side of your face or both, depending on the cause. Here are some indications that you could have TMD:

  • Tenderness and pain on both sides of your face and the area around the jaw joint. The tenderness and pain can extend to your shoulders, neck, and the area around your ears, especially when you open your mouth, speak, or chew.
  • Difficulties when opening your mouth, especially if you want to yawn or put something in your mouth.
  • Stiff jaws, or jaws that lock or become stuck in one position when you move your mouth.
  • You hear a popping, grating, or clicking sound in your joint when opening or closing your mouth or chewing. The sound could be accompanied by pain or not.
  • Your face continuously feels tired.
  • You have a problem chewing or biting.
  • You experience an unexpected, discomfiting bite when you bite down as if your lower and upper teeth are incorrectly fitting together.
  • Swelling on one or both sides of your face.

Some TMD patients also experience headaches, toothaches, pain in the neck, earaches, dizziness, pain in the upper shoulder, hearing problems, and tinnitus (a ringing sound in the ears).

You could experience one or more of these symptoms at any stage of TMD. Also, symptoms vary from one patient to another. That is why you need to visit your dentist immediately after you experience pain or discomfort in or around your mouth. You will explain your feelings to your dentist and allow them to examine your teeth, gums, and jawbone to diagnose the issue. Regular visits to the dentist also help with the early diagnosis and treatment of TMDs before the problem escalates.

TMD Causes

TMDs occur for a wide range of reasons. They do not have a single cause. Sometimes, you could have TMD due to a combination of factors. Some of their common causes include the following:

  • Jaw injuries like dislocated or broken jaws.
  • Grinding or clenching teeth, commonly known as bruxism. Habits like these put unnecessary pressure on the jaw joint.
  • Arthritis in the jaw joint.
  • Malocclusion occurs when the teeth on your upper jaw fail to fit well with those on the lower jaw when you bite down.
  • Stress, especially if it causes you to tighten your jaw and facial muscles or clench your teeth.

The muscles in your jaws are stimulated by the same nerve that triggers the fight or flight response. This nerve is mainly triggered when you are stressed. If you continuously stress over something, the nerve becomes overactive, which creates tension in the jaw muscles over time. Eventually, the muscle joints pull out of the ligaments, putting unnecessary pressure on the temporomandibular joint.

How Dentists Diagnose TMDs

When you visit your dentist with one or more of the symptoms above, they will first ask you questions to determine the likely cause of your issue and how long you have experienced it. For example, if you started experiencing tenderness and pain in your jaw joint after an accident, that can easily guide your dentist’s next move. If you have an unexplained headache that does not go away with pain medicine, your dentist will think of likely causes and conduct an oral examination to determine the exact cause.

Note that many conditions, including arthritis, tooth decay, gum disease, and sinus problems, present similar symptoms to TMD. To rule out other conditions, the dentist reviews your medical history and physically examines your teeth and jaws. If the dentist realizes that your teeth are in good condition, they will check your gums and teeth.

To check your jaws for problems, your dentist will determine whether you experience tenderness or pain. They will ask you to open and close your mouth to see how easily, or otherwise, you do it. The dentist also listens for any grating, clicking, or popping sounds when you move or open your mouth. They will also check your bite for problems that could cause jaw joint issues.

For further diagnosis, dentists use X-rays to view the underlying structures and muscles they can not observe through a physical exam. Your dentist will check your jaws, teeth, and temporomandibular joints for problems. They could do additional tests like computer tomography and MRIs if needed. An MRI will show your dentist if your TMJ disc is appropriately positioned when your jaw shifts. A CT scan can show bony details of the jaw joint.

In a more severe case of TMD, your dentist can refer you to an oral surgeon for additional examination and treatment recommendations. An oral surgeon specializes in maxillofacial and oral surgery. They offer specialized treatment and care for TMD patients. If you need surgery to correct any problem with the mouth, jaw area, or face, your dentist will refer you to an oral surgeon. Your dentist can also refer you to an orthodontist. The specialist will ensure your teeth, jaw joints, and muscles work as they should.

Home Remedies for TMDs

Dentists use a wide range of treatments to manage TMJ disorders. Some treatments are only meant to relieve some TMD symptoms. Others are intended to treat the problem with the jaw joint so you will not experience the symptoms again. Here are some of the remedies your dentist can recommend:

Prescription Medicines

In mild cases of TMD, dentists recommend prescription medicines to alleviate the pain and other symptoms patients are experiencing. Your dentist will prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen and naproxen to reduce pain, tenderness, and swelling. You can buy these medications over the counter.

Moist Cold or Heat Packs

Your dentist can also ask you to use a moist cold or heat pack on your face's swollen or painful side. You can do that twice or several times daily, holding the moist pack in the recommended area for ten minutes. You can accompany this treatment with minor jaw movements if the dentist agrees. Once the treatment session is over, you will hold a warm cloth to the treatment area for five minutes.

Eating Soft Foods

If you have difficulties eating regular foods, your dentist can recommend soft foods as you undergo treatment. Some foods you can try include soup, yogurt, fish, mashed potatoes, beans, cottage cheese, cooked fruits, scrambled eggs, and grains. Eat smaller amounts of foods to minimize pain and discomfort when chewing. You can skip hard foods like raw carrots and pretzels or chewy ones like taffy and caramel. Also, avoid taking large or thick bites of food, as you must open your mouth wider.

Stick to Minimal Jaw Movements

TMD can be very painful. You should avoid extreme mouth and jaw movements for that reason. If you must chew or yawn, keep it minimal. Avoid singing, yelling, or doing anything that will cause you to open your mouth wider.

Maintain Good Posture

You could also practice good posture to avoid pain and discomfort and promote healing. You must avoid resting your chin on the hand or holding your mobile phone between the ear and shoulder to achieve that. These habits can strain your jaw joint further, worsening the situation or making it difficult to heal.

Avoid Clenching Your Teeth

Teeth clenching is a habit that can easily damage your teeth and put unnecessary pressure on the jaw joint, resulting in TMD. Continuing this habit means that your jaw joint will take longer to heal. If you are in the habit of clenching your teeth, consciously keep your teeth apart. Ensure your tongue is between your lower and upper teeth to avoid grinding or clenching them.

Learn Some Relaxation Techniques

You can master some techniques that will help loosen your jaw and keep you relaxed. Your dentist will also recommend massage and physical therapy to relax your muscles. If you grind or clench your teeth when stressed, stress reduction therapies can help.

Traditional Treatment for TMDs

Dentists use traditional treatments for severe cases of TMD that patients cannot manage at home. Here are some of the treatments that your dentist can recommend for your situation:

Medical Treatment

If the tenderness and pain do not go away with prescription medication, your dentist will prescribe a higher dose of similar drugs to alleviate your symptoms. Remember that NSAIDs are very good at managing swelling, tenderness, and pain. Your dentist can also prescribe some relaxers to help you relax your jaws if you clench or grind your teeth. They can also recommend anti-anxiety drugs to help manage your stress, which could be the cause of the TMD. Some anti-anxiety drugs are also used to control or reduce pain but must be used at reduced dosages.

Most medications your dentist prescribes to manage TMD symptoms, like muscle relaxants, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications, are only sold on prescription.

Night Guards or Splints

If your dentist can establish the cause of your TMD, they can tailor your treatment to deal with the underlying cause and use other treatments to manage the current symptoms. For example, if you clench or grind your teeth or clench your muscles when stressed, your dentist can recommend using a night guard or splint. You can wear plastic mouthpieces on your lower and upper teeth to separate the two. These pieces ensure that your teeth do not meet, regardless of how you grind or clench them. Thus, they can reduce the pressure on your jaw joint caused by grinding or clenching your teeth.

If you have a bad bite and it is a contributing factor to TMD, a nightguard can correct it. Wearing the device consistently every night can eventually move your teeth into their proper positions. You can wear a splint any day or night to protect your teeth and reduce pressure on the jaw joint. Your dentist will recommend the best one, depending on the cause of your TMD.

Dental Work

If a bad bite contributes to your TMD, your dentist can fix the underlying issue with some dental work. For example, they can restore missing or severely damaged teeth, restore damaged teeth using dental bridges or crowns, or use braces to move your teeth into their proper positions. The kind of dental work your dentist will recommend will depend on your exact issue. But they will first determine the problem's causes and focus on fixing it. When your teeth are correctly aligned, you can easily bite down without overworking your jaw joint. 

Other Treatments for TMDs

Sometimes, home remedies and traditional treatments for TMD do not work. Your dentist will recommend a more aggressive approach to treat the underlying problem and alleviate your pain and discomfort if that is your case. Here are other TMD treatments that dentists recommend in extreme cases:

Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulations

TENS is a popular therapy that medical practitioners and dentists use to relax muscles and alleviate pain. Your dentist can perform this treatment in their office to relax your facial muscles and jaw joint and relieve your TMD symptoms. Dentists use an electronic device to produce pulsed biphasic electric waves that pass through electrodes placed on a patient’s skin surface. This treatment mainly applies electric stimulation to the skin for pain control.


The dentist applies deep heat to the problematic jaw joint in this treatment. It relieves soreness, alleviates tenderness and pain, and improves your jaw’s ability to move up, down, and sideways.

Injections on Specific Trigger-Points

The dentist can also apply anesthesia or pain medication to the trigger points, like facial muscles, to relieve pain and discomfort.

Radio Wave Therapies

Using radio waves to stimulate problematic joints is also widespread in dentistry. Stimulating joints increases blood circulation in those areas, alleviating your pain.

Low-Level Laser Therapies

Though laser therapies are usually not entirely safe, low levels can reduce inflammation and lower pain in TMD cases. That will enable you to move your jaws and even open your mouth more freely.

Surgical Treatment for TMD

Surgical treatment is the last recommendation your dentist will make for your TMD. It becomes an option when other treatments fail to help. Once you undergo surgery, you cannot reverse the changes the oral surgeon makes to your jawbone and/or surrounding structures. That is why trying other treatments before choosing surgical treatment is advisable.

If your dentist agrees that your only option for TMD is surgical treatment, they will explain your three options in detail to help you make an informed decision. Your choice will depend on the underlying cause of the TMJ dysfunction. These options include:

Arthrocentesis Treatment

It is a surgical treatment for first TMD patients whose jaws appear locked. Remember that your dentist will thoroughly examine your jaw bone, joint, and underlying structures to determine their condition and extent of damage, if any. Arthrocentesis is a minor surgical operation your dentist can perform in their office. They will begin the treatment by administering general anesthesia to make the process painless and comfortable.

The dentist then inserts needles into the problematic joint to clean it out. They can use specialized tools to remove damaged tissues, a disc that could be stuck in the jaw joint, or unlock the locked joint.

Arthroscopysis Surgery

Dentists perform this treatment using an arthroscope, a specialized tool with a light and lens. The tool allows the dentist to see the inside of the problematic joint. They will begin the treatment by administering general anesthesia to make the process painless. The dentist then makes a small incision before your ear to insert the arthroscope. They will connect the tool to a screen to examine the joint and the surrounding areas.

Depending on the underlying problem, the dentist can realign joints and discs or remove inflamed tissues.

Open-Joint Surgery

Dentists recommend this surgical treatment in the following situations:

  • If you have worn-out bone structures in the jaw.
  • There are tumors around and in the joint.
  • Your jaw joint has scars or bone chips.

You will also receive general anesthesia during this treatment to make the process painless. The surgeon will then open the area around the problematic jaw for better access and a complete view. Healing can take a long time after this treatment.

Find a Skilled General Dentist Near Me

Do you suspect that you or someone you love has a temporomandibular joint disorder in Carson?

You deserve a proper diagnosis, a well-devised treatment plan, and quality treatment to alleviate your pain and any other symptoms you could be experiencing. A skilled general dentist can examine your teeth and jaws to rule out other conditions and recommend the best treatment. They will also refer you to a specialist, if you need one, to restore your oral health and improve your general well-being.

Our general dentists at Washington Dental have extensive experience handling all kinds of TMDs. We can conduct a thorough examination, even of the underlying structures, to determine the actual cause of your TMD. Then, we can recommend the best treatment plan for you. Call us at 310-217-1507, and let us walk you through the treatment process.