For most people with temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), the condition can be managed without lasting impacts. Without treatment, however, TMJ may lead to chronic jaw pain, recurring headaches and other adverse effects.

TMJ Causes and Effects

The effects of TMJ, and how long they linger, depend largely on the source of the condition. In broad terms, most TMJ symptoms are caused by physical stress on the temporomandibular joints and other tissues of the skull and the jaw, including muscles and nerves.

young woman suffering from pain in her jaw

There are a number of factors that may contribute to this stress, including:

  • A bite condition
  • A misaligned jaw
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding)
  • Osteoarthritis or other degenerative conditions
  • Trauma or injury to the jaw

It should be noted that not everyone who experiences one of these conditions develops TMJ. In some cases, the symptoms associated with TMJ—which include jaw discomfort, migraine-like headaches, and difficulty biting and chewing—are temporary; in other instances, they grow progressively worse.

TMJ Without Treatment

TMJ is not a life-threatening disorder, but if not treated its symptoms can negatively affect your quality of life over time.

One of the most widely reported indicators of TMJ is jaw clicking. A relatively early study of temporomandibular joint disorder focused on whether jaw clicking eventually translated to discomfort; researchers found that 70 percent of patients who initially reported painless clicking later developed jaw pain. Other forms of persistent discomfort linked to TMJ include:

  • Intense headaches
  • Neck, shoulder and back pain
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears), which may be accompanied by earaches

TMJ has also been tied to depression. The findings of a 2012 study indicated that depression and anxiety should be considered risk factors for TMJ, and the chronic nature of TMJ discomfort in many people can gradually impair sleep and mood, and contribute to depression.

Many aspects of TMJ onset and its long-term effects are still not well understood. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is currently engaged in research tracking risk factors for and effects of TMJ over an extended period of time.

When to See a Neuromuscular Dentist about TMJ

Some patients seek help for TMJ symptoms only to have the condition misdiagnosed by physicians who don’t understand it. Others live with the painful, but vague, symptoms not knowing that treatments are available.

Dentists trained in neuromuscular dentistry have undergone extensive postgraduate studies in the relationship between the joints, nerves, muscles, and other components that aid in jaw function. Understanding how these components work together is crucial to diagnosing the source of TMJ and designing a custom treatment plan.

The NIH recommends seeking a medical assessment for potential TMJ when symptoms are continuous or begin to interfere with quality of life. Most treatments for TMJ are comfortable and noninvasive, and they may include the use of TENS therapy to soothe the jaw muscles, an oral appliance that promotes proper jaw position, or BOTOX® to relax the jaw muscles.

Denver neuromuscular dentist Dr. Kevin Berry has helped many patients find lasting relief from TMJ pain. If you suffer from headaches, jaw pain and other TMJ symptoms, please call the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado at (303) 691-0267 to schedule your appointment.