Pain in the Jaw Joint
Jaw joint pain can be acute or chronic.
The most common cause for acute jaw joint pain – meaning it is limited in time of occurrence – is acute jaw joint inflammation, caused by leaving the mouth open for extended periods of time, such as when visiting the dentist. The consequence is a jaw joint effusion, which refers to a collection of fluid or blood in the joint’s interior. A day after visiting the dentist, you may feel as if your teeth do not fit together properly and/or you experience pain when opening your mouth. In general, it is helpful to apply cooling ice-wraps and rest the joint for a few days. This means no chewing gum, no chew-intensive food and cautious mouth opening exercises.
Recurring pain without a triggering cause may be an indication of degenerative changes in the jaw joint resulting from conditions such as jaw joint arthrosis, which is caused by a lack of side tooth support. If grinders are missing on the sides, chewing energy is not transmitted via the teeth to the jaw bone; instead, the chewing muscles press the lower jaw joint head into the joint socket. In this case, the jaw joint is heavily stressed. Every person reacts differently to over-straining. Over the years, many individuals will experience joint reconstruction and joint degeneration. However, middle ear diseases and certain bone diseases can also cause jaw joint pain. The most common misdiagnosis regarding jaw joint pain is atypical facial pain and trigeminal neuralgia.
Through imaging, clinical diagnostics and precise questioning about pain characteristics, it is possible to differentiate a “jaw joint pain” diagnosis clearly from other causes of pain in the skull area. Appropriate treatment depends on the cause of jaw joint pain. For example, if the cause is a lowered bite level in the side teeth area, the bite level is initially reconstructed using an occlusal splint, which is eventually followed by well-fitting dentures. This leads to the desired transfer of chewing energy away from the jaw joint and to the jaw bone via the side teeth. In principal, only easily reversible methods should initially be used in the treatment of jaw joint pain because facial pain often has multiple causes. The patient usually wears the occlusal splint overnight. If this is successful – meaning pain reduction occurs– then a definitive bite reconstruction should occur through new crowns and/or an implantation.