TMJ Facial Pain Symptoms

TMJ Facial Pain Symptoms

TMJ joint location

Facial pain is one of the most common symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD).  It can be either acute and arise from nowhere, or chronic and seem to never go away.  It can also either be in one specific area or generalized around a wide area. If you are suffering from either you don’t need to live in pain.  It has been established that upwards of 90% of pain in the body arises from muscles and so it stands to reason that in the area of the head and neck, it is likely muscles that are the culprit.  Fortunately that can be managed!  

There is much information that is known about TMJ facial pain and there are effective treatments that may not require expensive surgeries, medications or long recovery times.  In this TMD symptom page we explore what causes facial pain radiating from the jaw joint, possible treatments and what steps you can take towards resolving symptoms.  We will also provide resources to find highly trained TMJ dentists who can properly diagnose and treat the cause.


Causes of Facial Pain in TMD

The jaw area of the face is a complex network of bones, joints, muscles, and nerves. When the jaw becomes unaligned,resulting in what is called “malocclusion”the surrounding bones, muscles, and nerves also get affected. This includes the muscles of the face, which experience strain or spasm because the muscles have to work extra hard to compensate for the unstable bite.  They are also constantly forced to posture the jaw in this pathologic position and that is a task they were not designed to do.  This results in facial pain radiating from the TMJ.

TMD pain can be continuous over a long time and interferes with daily life, thereby leading to a diminished quality of life. The intensity of pain however, is not proportional to the amount of tissue damage that has occurred.  The only way to truly know the cause of the pain and if there is damage is to see a dentists specially trained in identifying and treating a TMJ disorder often called a neuromuscular dentist.  Such a dentist has invested in extensive post-graduate training and special equipment to diagnose what is causing the pain to occur.

TMD causes pain and tenderness due to palpating (pressing) on the muscles of mastication or the joint itself (pain felt just in front of the ear).  What has made is so difficult to diagnose is that it also creates discomfort and odd sensations far removed from the jaws.  The reality is that the entire body is an interconnected system and damage to one part can create issues in another area.  Imagine if you were to talk with a heel on one foot and a flat shoe on the other.  The body would accomodate – and rotate your pelvis.  That rotation would create a compensation in the curvature of yoru spine, and that would force your shoulders to adjust.  The shoulder adjustment would create a secondary neck change, and that would affect head posture.  Fortunately, you would also very likely decide on a pair of shoes and wear a set that matches.  However, when the jaws are mis-aligned, for whatever reason, the exact same set of compensations happens from the top down. 

Sometimes this is simply facial pain emanating from the temporomandibular joint.  Sometimes it is numbness in the fingertips or lower back.  Generally they are symptoms that are not directly associated with the teeth so in general the questions about it get posed to a physician rather than a dentist, and dentists are left treating holes in teeth and by and large ignoring the complex cascade of symptoms that can occur when the system is broken.  That is where the training of a Neuromuscular Dentist is focused, and why those dentists in particular are better equipped to help resolve jaw disfunction.


Is My Facial Pain From a TMJ Disorder?

TMD pain is most common among the age group of 20 to 40 years and is more commonly observed amongst women than men. Since females are more often affected by TMD than males, the female hormone estrogen has been suggested to be involved.  The results of one study suggested that the periods of highest pain in TMD can be correlated with rapid periods of change in the circulating estrogen level. Low estrogen was also correlated to higher pain.  In either situation, estrogen is likely a trigger for an underlying structural issue, a misaligned jaw causing a bad bite.

However all sufferers may find pain to become severe in a short period of time during a TMJ disorder flare up.  The good news is that when the jaw disfunction is resolved, the change in circulating estrogen levels no longer triggers the facial pain symptoms. This can be linked to the cause of the pain which may occur due to a number of different conditions being present. In most cases of TMD related facial pain, there is an extra-articular dysfunction such as a misaligned jaw, bad bit or muscle tension or an intra-articular dysfunction in the jaw such as a worn articular disc or arthritis in the TMJ.  A neuromuscular dentist with proper training and tools can properly assess the cause and recommend the proper treatment.


Characteristics of TMJ Facial Pain:

  • The pain can vary from a dull ache to an exquisitely sharp pain.
  • It can be continuous or intermittent.
  • Usually the pain is localized to one side and not bilateral. It is rare that pain is bilateral meaning equal in both sides of the jaw.
  • It can be temporary or last many years.
  • The defining feature of the TMD pain is that it gets aggravated by all functions like clenching, grinding, eating, yawning. Chewing of hard or tough food is very painful.
  • Upon waking, it is usually the worst because of Nocturnal Bruxism (grinding of teeth  at night)
  • It may be accompanied by other TMD symptoms.  Crepitus or clicking or popping, limited jaw movement, migraines and lock jaw are common symptoms that will accompany a radiating TMJ facial pain.


Treating TMJ Disorder Facial Pain:

TMD is the second most frequent cause of orofacial pain after dental pain and can become quite difficult to manage.  Many doctors including ENT(Ear, Nose and Throat) specialists, chiropractors and general dentists that aren’t trained in proper TMD diagnosis may misdiagnose the cause of the pain and prescribe medications to mask the orofacial pain symptoms and over treat or not effect the root cause.

It is very important to consult a properly trained professional such as a TMJ dentist or neuromuscular dentist before going on a course of pain relieving narcotics or muscle relaxers.  There are considerable side affects to this option which may be avoidable. The same should be weighed with the option of surgery which is not necessary for many patients.  A neuromuscular dentist such as those found at Leading Dentists will have the training and the technology to find the unique cause of each patients complaint. Most often the effective treatment recommended will help the patient avoid addictive medications and surgeries.  Their focus in many cases will be to initially stabilize and realign your bite so that the teeth, muscles, and joints all work together without strain.  By doing this they may provide effective relief of TMJ facial pain symptoms and help patients to alleviate the condition with reduced side affects and faster recovery times.

To find a trained TMJ disorder dentist near you search here:


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