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Can TMJ Cause Tooth Pain?

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A woman sitting on a sofa and holding her cheek with her palm as she grimaces from a toothache.

Feeling any discomfort in your teeth is rarely a fun experience. If you’ve ever noticed a clicking, sore, or swelling sensation in your jaw, it may have been something called temporomandibular joint disorder—commonly known as TMJ or TMD. 

TMJ can cause sensations similar to tooth pain, but it rarely affects the tooth itself. Instead, it affects the muscles and nerves just underneath the teeth, which can often be misinterpreted as tooth pain. 

Tooth pain isn’t always a dental emergency, but If you ever notice pain in your teeth, you should visit a dentist as soon as you can. Getting to the root cause of pain is important for continuing to smile out loud. 

What Is TMJ?

Temporomandibular joint disorder is often related to inflammation or other forms of dysfunction in your temporomandibular joint. Your temporomandibular joint is the hinge-like joint that connects your jawbone to your skull. It allows you to open and close your mouth, chew, and speak. 

TMJ pain can be caused by several different potential problems, such as a recent injury, a bite misalignment, or bruxism (teeth grinding). In fact, bruxism and TMJ have a closely studied connection. Even stress can play a part because many people grind their teeth when they experience stress.

Signs & Symptoms of TMJ

TMJ disorder can manifest in several different ways. The first noticeable sign is often a sore, tender feeling around the jawbone. This can sometimes be a dull, aching pain.

Other common signs and symptoms of TMJ issues include:

  • Headaches, often resembling migraines
  • Clicking or popping sounds when opening or closing your mouth
  • Difficulty opening or closing your mouth fully
  • Earaches or pain around the ear
  • Facial pain or tenderness
  • Neck and shoulder pain

These symptoms can vary in severity and get worse during certain activities, like chewing or yawning. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to speak with your dentist. We can help you get an accurate diagnosis.

How Does TMJ Affect Teeth?

While TMJ primarily affects the jaw joint and surrounding muscles, it can sometimes affect teeth, too. There are fine muscles lining the underside of your gums that help you control your jaw and nerves that help you feel sensations in your mouth.

When the temporomandibular joint is inflamed, these muscles and nerves can be affected. This pain can radiate up to your teeth, making it feel like your teeth are hurting. 

Jaw misalignment related to TMJ can also be connected with dental issues like:

  • Excessive wear on teeth due to grinding or clenching (bruxism)
  • An uneven bite or tooth misalignment
  • Increased sensitivity of the teeth due to exposed dentin

It’s important to remember that not all tooth pain is caused by TMJ. Plenty of dental problems, like cavities and tooth infections, can cause tooth pain as well. If you’re experiencing tooth pain, you should schedule a dental exam

During a full exam and cleaning, we can determine what’s causing your tooth pain and recommend solutions to support your oral health and comfort. 

How Is TMJ Treated?

Treatment for TMJ pain depends on the severity of the symptoms and the underlying causes. A dentist may recommend the following treatment options for TMJ:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers, muscle relaxants, or anti-inflammatory medication
  • A mouthguard to help align your jaw
  • A nightguard to prevent tooth grinding
  • Therapy exercises designed to strengthen your jaw muscles
  • Avoiding overly hard or tough foods
  • Stress management techniques

During your visit, we can recommend treatments for TMJ pain based on your personal dental health and your lifestyle. 

At-Home TMJ Relief

There are a few practices you can work into your everyday life to help reduce the risk of TMJ pain or reduce the severity of the symptoms if they do develop.

Here are some of the lifestyle adjustments we recommend for TMJ management:

  • Avoid overly hard or chewy foods like chewing gum or taffy where possible. Choose soft foods that are easier on your jaw. 
  • Maintain good posture when you’re sitting for a long period of time to avoid putting too much pressure on your neck and jaw.
  • Avoid opening your mouth all the way, such as when you sing or yawn. 
  • Avoid holding your phone between your shoulder and jaw. 
  • Avoid holding items in your mouth or clenching anything between your teeth. 
  • Practice keeping your teeth apart when you’re not using your jaw.
A man in an dentist's office shaking hands with his dentist

When to Visit a Dentist for TMJ Pain

If you think you’re experiencing TMJ pain or you’re dealing with any tooth pain or discomfort, your first step should be to visit our team at Elevate Dental

We can evaluate your symptoms, provide an accurate diagnosis, and recommend next steps to help you get relief. Our team is here to help—book an appointment with us today!

Written by Dr. Krystal Hakkaart

Dr. Krystal Hakkaart is a General Dentist practicing in the North Okanagan Valley. She graduated from the University of Sydney in 2021 with unique training in Clinical Teaching and Leadership. Krystal moved back to Vernon (where she was born and raised) to share her passion and skill with her hometown. Krystal makes every effort to stay on top of current trends and developments in dentistry. Her commitment to continuing education empowers her to better serve her patients’ distinctive wants and needs. She is passionate about utilizing innovative technology and digital integration to offer the highest level of service, and deliver exceptional quality care wrapped in a gentle touch that results in an overall comfortable experience.

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