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As you get older, you expect a little bit of pain. Your body won’t let you put it through the same abuse you did as a teenager. When you were younger, playing basketball or hockey all day long left you feeling drained. If you tried that now, you would feel like you were hit by a truck. That’s just the price you pay as you get older.
Not every bit of pain is normal, however. If you are having pain in your jaw, neck, or back, you could be suffering from temporomandibular disorder (TMD). And if you’re very stressed, that could be making things much worse.
TMJ vs. TMD
TMD is a disorder that affects your jaw joints. You have two of them, one on either side of your face. They are technically called your temporomandibular joints (TMJ). Just like with your knee or elbow, your TMJs can can get sore. When you have a sore knee, you can rest it for a few days so it has time to heal.
But since you use your TMJs whenever you talk, eat, or drink, resting your jaw joint is a bit harder to do. When your TMJs start to give you problems, it’s called TMD. Because they are so similar, TMJ and TMD can often be used interchangeably.
Symptoms of TMD
TMD has several symptoms. If you are experiencing any of the following, you could very well have a problem with your jaw joints.
- Pain in the jaw: This makes sense. If your jaw joints are sore, then you experience discomfort or pain in them. The pain could happen when you use the joint, or it could be a steady thing that doesn’t get better or worse.
- Earaches: Your ears are very close to your TMJs. If you want to pop your ears, you open and close your jaw. If the jaw joint muscles are inflamed or overworked, it could lead to pain in your ears.
- Headaches and migraines: As with earaches, pain in your jaw joints can migrate up into your head. This can be anything from the occasional headache to a chronic migraine.
- Jaw soreness, especially in the morning: Sometimes, TMD doesn’t lead to pain. Instead, your jaw feels sore or at least a little different than normal. Because TMD can lead to bruxism, you can especially feel this soreness in the mornings when you wake up.
- Noise when you use your jaw: TMD is often associated with a popping or clicking noise when you use your jaw. That’s because the ligaments can get overly stretched or a disc inside the joint pops out slightly when used. Either way, it makes an uncomfortable noise.
- Stiffness in the jaw: When the jaw joints suffer, you could have trouble opening or closing your mouth. In simple cases, this is just a little stiffness. In extreme cases, you suffer from lockjaw and have great difficulty in moving your jaw.
- Neck and upper back pain: Your muscles are interconnected. When the muscles in your jaw joint get sore with TMD, it can put extra pressure on the muscles in your neck, shoulders, and upper back.
How Stress Affects TMD
The exact causes of TMD are not yet known, but we do know that stress is a major factor. There are several reasons for this.
- Stress can cause you to clench your jaw repeatedly. Doing this over and over again puts extra stress on your jaw joints, which leads to TMD problems.
- Stress also causes your muscles to tense up and stay that way. When the muscles in your jaw joint set sore, they can cause pain in nearby muscles. The reverse is also true. If you’re building up tension in your shoulders and neck, that could affect the muscles in your jaw joint and help kickstart TMD.
- Bruxism, or unconsciously grinding your teeth, is related to stress. Your teeth are supposed to mash together when eating, but not all the time. If your stress level is making bruxism a problem in your life, that extra pressure on your jaw joints can also make TMD a problem.
How to get help
There’s a bit of a “chicken and the egg” problem here. Having problems with your jaw joints can add stress to your life, but stress can also help complicate TMD problems. Which came first? In the end, it doesn’t matter. You’re suffering and need help. Reducing your stress is the first step, but in this day and age, that’s often easier said than done. That’s where Orthodontic Alliances can help. Our braces and even Invisalign orthodontic treatments can change the way your jaw comes together, reducing the stress you put on your jaw joints.
If you are having problem with your jaw joints, call us today at 219-809-6584. We have three locations in northern Indiana, and you can get help with TMD problems at any one of them.
You may also make your appointment with us online; just fill out our web form and we will get right back with you to find a time and location that works best for you.