Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder is a dental condition characterized by clicking or popping of the jaw. If you habitually or subconsciously clench your jaw when under pressure or stress, you may have noticed the distinct clicking sound that your jaw makes when you yawn or open your mouth wide. This is the first and most noticeable symptom that indicates you may be suffering from TMJ disorder. However, this condition causes more than just an annoying sound in your jaw. If left untreated for an extended period, it can lead to the following issues:
Tooth Wear and Other Dental Issues
Habitual clenching of the jaw can cause your molars and premolars to grind against each other. Over time, this causes the enamel to wear or corrode. A worn enamel leads to misalignment on the affected side. You will have a hard time chewing food properly. Additionally, enamel wear increases the risk of dental cavities if you don't observe proper oral hygiene. With little surface to work with, bacteria can quickly erode the enamel and cause tooth decay. It's crucial to seek immediate treatment for TMJ to protect your teeth and soft tissues.
TMJ Damage and Inflammation
The pop sound produced by your jaw is a result of the destruction of the TMJ cartilage that facilitates smooth movement of the jaw. It is like a sliding hinge that connects your jaw to the skull. Regular jaw clenching causes this disc to wear off, making jaw movement difficult. This is why you hear a clicking sound when opening and closing your mouth.
Wear to the TMJ cartilage can cause inflammation. Also, since cartilage tissue doesn't regrow, you may end up with permanent damage. If the disc is beyond repair, you may need replacement with an artificial one through dental surgery. It's imperative to address TMJ disorder before it gets to this point.
Pain in Neck and Face
Constant clenching of the jaw can cause stress on the neck and face. Additionally, the inflammation of the joint can spread to the muscles and nerves in the face and neck. The result is unexplainable pain and tension in the neck and face. TMJ can also trigger tension headaches as a result of the stress exerted on the face. These can affect your quality of life, lead to poor eating habits, and disrupt sleep.
TMJ disorder has direct and indirect effects on one's dental health and overall wellness. If left untreated for an extended period, it can also subject you to TMJ surgery. Luckily, if treated early through medication and oral appliances, the condition is manageable.
If you're already experiencing a clicking sound in your jaw, visit a TMJ dentist for a consultation.