As we get older, we usually learn to live with some discomfort. Some will have a bad knee, and they know not to hit the stair master at the gym. Others can have bad lower backs and need to be careful how much they lift. None of that is good, but it’s tolerable. When it comes to TMJ pain, however, things can go from tolerable to demoralizing pretty quickly.
Your TMJ are the joints that control your jaw. Whenever you open or close your mouth, you need to use your TMJ. As with your knee, wrist, or any joint, the muscles there can get sore and stressed. Sometimes this happens because you use your TMJ too often, but it can also be caused by stress and tension. When this happens, you have a condition called temporomandibular disorder or TMD.
What makes TMJ pain such a problem is how much it can impact your life. People who suffer from TMJ pain can get headaches, migraines, neck pain, tinnitus, shoulder pain, back pain, and even lockjaw. You need to use your jaw to eat, drink, talk, even breathe if your nose is stuffed. Doing any of that with TMJ pain only makes things worse. To give you an idea of what it’s like, here’s a day in the life of someone with severe TMJ problems.
A Morning With TMJ Pain
Your alarm goes off in the morning, but you’ve been awake for a while. That’s because you kept waking up all night with jaw pain. You also keep catching yourself grinding your teeth, which only makes the TMJ pain worse. Losing that much sleep makes you groggy and irritable, but your family has gotten used to that by now.
At breakfast, you can only chew a little toast before the pain starts getting irritating. You drink some coffee, but thanks to the bruxism that often comes with TMJ problems, your teeth sting from the heat. But you can’t not eat, so you deal with the discomfort. You take a few pain relievers and stuff more in your pockets. You know you’ll need them at work.
You drive to work a little late because you’re so tired. Traffic is worse because you didn’t leave early enough. Sitting in that traffic is stressful, and you can almost feel your jaw tightening up. Mild pain starts to shoot down your neck and into your shoulders. The pain relievers at breakfast help, but it’s not enough.
Your morning at work goes by slowly. You’ve got several projects to finish, but it’s hard to concentrate when there’s this constant low-level pain in your jaw, neck, and shoulders. Your ears start to ring by mid-morning, and you misunderstand your supervisor and screw up — again.
An Afternoon With TMJ Pain
For lunch, everyone orders sandwiches in from that place down the street. Not you, though. The last time you tried to eat their sandwiches with hard bread, it hurt way too much. While everyone marvels at how good the food is from that place, you eat some soft, mushy food you brought from home. As you chew, you worry if everyone can hear the popping noises coming from your jaw joints.
The pain relievers start to wear off in the afternoon, so you swallow some more. It takes a while before they help, so you try to get work down with a headache. That quickly turns into a migraine. It’s really hard to focus, and you even have problems seeing clearly. People keep asking you what’s wrong, and that starts to get old. Finally, the migraine subsides — but you’re going to miss that project deadline now.
An Evening With TMJ Pain
You finally get home. It’s time for family dinner, so you help set the table. By now, the pain in the head, neck, and shoulders has reached your back. Just sitting at the table is uncomfortable. You’re hungry, but you don’t want to eat. Still, it’s family dinner time. You try to eat, and you only manage a few bites. The pain is just too bad today. Everyone wonders what’s wrong with you. Then your jaw starts to get stiff and it’s difficult to open or close it. Still hungry, you excuse yourself and go take more pain relievers.
It’s evening, and you should be spending time helping the kids with homework. But the pain is bad and you’re exhausted. You finally slip into bed and feel better with lying down in a dark room. You fall asleep … and you wake up with another migraine. Just like last night, you’re going to spend this one tossing and turning instead of sleeping.
Don’t wait until your life starts to resemble this one. A dental splint from Dr. Kiehl can help relax your jaw joints so they can heal normally. If you have any questions about TMJ pain, call us at 603-546-7460.