family dentist in Milwaukie

As a family dentist in Milwaukie, Dr. Sue Walker helps patients overcome a variety of oral health problems. While most patients may think of a dentist whenever they experience a toothache or biting problem, Dr. Sue also helps patients suffering from jaw pain.

The hinge that connects the temporal bones of your skull to the jaw is called the temporomandibular joint. The joint allows you to move your jaw from side to side and up and down, so you can do everything from eat, drink, talk, chew and yawn. Occasionally, muscle and jaw problems will develop in this area that are known as temporomandibular disorders (TMD), though you might have commonly heard them referred to as TMJ.

What Causes TMJ?

Researchers remain unclear about what causes TMJ, but many within the oral health community believe the problems stem from your jaw muscles or with part of the joint itself.

Injury to your joint, jaw or neck and head muscles – like from whiplash or a strong blow – can cause TMJ. Other known causes include:

  • Clenching or grinding your teeth at night, which places excess pressure on the joint
  • Movement of the disc between the socket and ball of the joint
  • Arthritis in the joint
  • Stress, which can cause unconscious tightening of the muscles in your jaw and face

Symptoms of TMJ

Severe discomfort and pain are one of the primary symptoms of TMJ. This discomfort can last for only a few days or for several years. You may experience the discomfort in both sides of your face or just one side. TMJ affects more women than men, and the condition is most common in adults between the ages of 20 to 40.

Symptoms of TMJ commonly include:

  • Tenderness or pain in the shoulders, neck, face and jaw joint areas, and around or in the ears when you speak, chew or open wide
  • Difficulty when trying to open your mouth
  • Jaws that become “locked” in an open or closed position
  • Grating, popping or clicking sounds in the jaw joint when you chew or open and close your mouth (these noises may not cause discomfort)
  • A feeling of fatigue in your facial muscles
  • Difficulty chewing or sudden discomfort when biting – as if the lower and upper teeth no longer properly fit together
  • Facial swelling on one or both sides of your jaw

Patients may also experience ringing in the ears, shoulder pain, loss of hearing, dizziness, toothaches, neck pain or headaches.

Treating TMJ

Fortunately, patients suffering from TMJ can take a variety of steps to help alleviate their discomfort. Potential remedies include:

  • Over-the-counter medications. Nonsterodial antiflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or naproxen can help to alleviate swelling and muscle pain.
  • Use cold or moist heat packs. Apply an ice pack to the area of discomfort for roughly 10 minutes. During this time, do a few jaw stretches. When done, place a warm compress to the same area for roughly 5 minutes. Repeat this process several times a day for maximum affect.
  • Eat soft foods. Make foods like beans, yogurt, fish, steamed vegetables, soup, mashed potatoes and scrambled eggs a bigger part of your daily diet. Make sure to cut your food into small bites so you chew less. Also try to avoid chewy or crunchy foods, and taking large bites that require opening wide to ingest.

As a family dentist in Milwaukie, Dr. Sue will also have some treatment options available for patients. Prescription medications, night guards and dental work can all help to alleviate the discomfort caused by TMJ. If you suffer from jaw, neck or head pain that could be related to TMJ, schedule an appointment with Dr. Sue today to see which treatment method might be right for you.