If you have just begun experiencing pain in your jaw near your ears while chewing, then you may suspect that you have an ear infection. However, realize that the cause of the pain could be an ear infection that has led to ear canal swelling, or the pain could be caused by a joint disorder called Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, or TMJ. Over 10 million people in the United States suffer from this disorder.
Read on to learn the other signs that you may have TMJ instead of an ear infection and TMJ treatment options.
Other Signs and Symptoms of TMJ
Along with pain in your ears when chewing, there are many other signs and symptoms of TMJ. Taking note of whether you are experiencing these other symptoms or not can help you help your physician make an accurate diagnosis of the cause of your pain.
First, realize that many people who eventually develop TMJ typically have at least one existing dental or joint problem that leads to the development of this disorder, such as as a bad bite that was never corrected with orthodontic treatment, arthritis, or another connective tissue disease.
Other symptoms of TMJ include: a clicking sound in your jaw when moving your mouth, difficulty chewing food, a ringing sensation in your ears, frequent headaches, and/or a jaw that suddenly freezes when you open it wide.
If your primary care physician determines that you do not have an ear infection, as suspected, then it is important to visit a dentist if you suspect you have TMJ to receive a proper diagnosis and discuss your treatment options.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder Treatment Options
If you suspect you have TMJ, then you can begin treating your symptoms right at home after you make an appointment with your dentist. The condition often improves after eating a soft diet, applying hot or cold packs to an achy jaw, and putting stress on your jaw more than necessary.
Once you visit a TMJ specialist, he or she may recommend that you try wearing a TMJ mouth guard or splint at night, especially if it is determined that your TMJ stems from grinding or clenching your teeth at night; take an anti-inflammatory medication to limit temporomandibular joint inflammation; and/or begin taking an anxiety medication that limits the stress that is believed to contribute to the development disorder in many people. TENS treatment, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, that relaxes the jaw is another non-invasive TMJ treatment that many dentists advise.
However, if these non-invasive TMJ treatment options do not improve your symptoms enough, then you may need oral reconstructive surgery.
There are three main types of oral reconstructive surgery that often resolve difficult cases of TMJ.
Arthrocentesis. This procedure involves inserting needles filled with sterile fluids into the affected temporamandibular joints and cleansing them. Your surgeon may then remove scar tissue that is contributing to your symptoms or correct a disc that has moved out of position.
Arthroscopy. During this procedure, your surgeon will insert a small surgical instrument called a scope that is equipped with both a small camera that allows them to view your temporomandibular joint on a video screen. They can then accurately view your joints and make any corrections needed to eliminate your pain, such as removing inflamed tissue.
Open-joint surgery. This is a more invasive surgery that is reserved for cases of TMJ that are tough to treat with arthrocentesis or arthroscopy surgeries. This procedure requires the surgeon to make a large incision in your jaw, unlike the tiny ones they make in the two aformentioned surgeries to obtain a crystal-clear view of your temporomandibular joints However, it is very useful for removing tumors around the TMJ joints and making joint repairs that cannot be performed through a smaller incision.
If you have begun experiencing pain in your ears while chewing, then you may suspect it is an ear infection. However, if your primary care provider does not detect an infection, then it is important to visit a dentist, like one from Central PA Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons LLC, who can determine if you have TMJ and provide treatment recommendations.