Clicking, popping, pain, limited range of motion, and, in severe cases, a locked jaw: TMJ flare-ups can make life more than challenging. TMJ is a joint disorder that involves the temporomandibular joint. This sliding joint connects the lower jaw with your skull at a point right in front of each ear. No matter the definition of the disorder, the main question patients need an answer to is “How long do TMJ flare-ups last?”
How long do TMJ flare-ups last?
While there are some factors that predispose a person to develop this disorder, the three main causes of TMJ include injury or trauma, deterioration due to arthritis, and erosion in the joint or the disc that cushions it.
TMJ flare-ups are hard to miss. Common symptoms include:
- TMJ pain in the joint itself
- Warmth and swelling in the face
- Headache (even migraine)
- Tenderness in the jaw
- Difficulty eating, chewing, or opening the mouth
- Locked jaw (inability to open the mouth or move the jaw at all)
- Clicking or ticking sound in the joint when chewing
- Decreased mobility in the jaw
- Grating noise (or feeling) in the joint
- Ear pain
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Hearing problems
When identifying how long TMJ flare-ups last, it’s important to note that each patient is different. TMJ pain and symptoms are influenced by the severity of the disorder, any treatments that are being used, and the underlying causes of the disorder itself.
In general, TMJ flare-ups that are being treated as they occur can last anywhere from a couple days to several weeks. If TMJ is left untreated, symptoms can become chronic and severely impact a person’s daily life.
When is TMJ pain most likely to flare-up?
For those patients with more severe or advanced cases of TMJ, there are some times when TMJ is more likely to flare-up.
During times of stress
Especially for those suffering from bruxism, you may find your TMJ getting worse during times of stress. A natural response to stress for most people is a clenched or gripped jaw.
Those with bruxism clench their jaw and grind their teeth at all hours of the day and night. This can aggravate TMJ, not only bringing on a flare-up but also creating injury to the teeth and the joint itself.
After a dentist appointment
Maybe it’s the stress of the dentist appointment, or perhaps it is the wide opening of the jaw. Whatever the cause, many TMJ sufferers may find their TMJ flaring up after a dentist appointment.
Talk to your doctor before your appointment if this has happened to you before. They may be able to modify their treatment or allow you to take breaks to prevent it from happening.
After eating certain foods
Many people enjoy a good hard pretzel, but these fall into the category of foods that can cause a TMJ flare-up.
Hard pretzels, hard candy, and sticky or chewy foods all place tremendous pressure on the temporomandibular joint. A day at the carnival filled with taffy apples and hard pretzels may not be worth the TMJ flare-up.
After injury to the jaw
For those people who have had TMJ in the past but are asymptomatic, an injury to the jaw can cause TMJ to flare-up again. It’s almost as if the body remembers the previous condition and reverts back to its old pattern.
This does not mean you should avoid any activity with the potential for injury. Just knowing that a TMJ flare-up is possible after an injury means you can immediately begin proactive treatments.
How to reduce TMJ flare-up time
Reducing TMJ flare-up time requires a multi-pronged approach that includes identifying and addressing the underlying cause while treating your symptoms.
Identifying the underlying cause
If you do not already have a TMJ diagnosis that includes the cause of the disorder, visiting your TMJ specialist can help.
A TMJ specialist can diagnose TMJ (also known as TMD) with a combination of tools. They examine your jaw for signs of decreased mobility, swelling, and tenderness, putting you through range of motion exercises and listening to any sounds your jaw makes when you open and close your mouth. In some cases, dental X-rays are ordered to assess the health of your teeth and to see if there are any underlying issues or wear patterns that are common among TMJ patients. An MRI can examine the tissues in the joint to see if there are any issues with the disc of the joint.
This diagnostic process includes taking a full medical history to determine if there is any history of injury, chronic joint disease, or bruxism.
Addressing the underlying cause
Addressing the underlying cause is important to not only speed up the TMJ healing time but to also treat the TMJ flare-up. If bruxism is at the root of your TMJ, your dentist or TMJ specialist may prescribe a mouth guard to gently hold the teeth in the proper bite and prevent clenching.
In some rare cases, the anatomy of the jaw is to blame for TMJ pain. The mandible (jawbone) may not fit the joint correctly. TMJ surgery may be necessary to correct this misalignment and prevent further flare-ups.
The painful symptoms of TMJ can make even smiling difficult. There are at-home remedies to treat painful TMJ flare-ups.
- Change your diet: Soft foods like scrambled eggs, well-cooked vegetables, and yogurt are easy on the jaw during a TMJ flare-up.
- Ice any swelling: Following a 20 minutes on/20 minutes off icing schedule can reduce swelling and ease pain.
- Apply heat: For some patients, too much ice can reduce mobility even further. In this case, applying a heating pad and gently moving the jaw can help restore mobility.
- Over-the-counter pain relief: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
- Relieve stress: TMJ flare-ups are both caused and exacerbated by stress. Practicing yoga, meditating, or even spending time outside walking or simply sitting are great ways to reduce and manage stress.
Treating TMJ symptoms can offer some relief while you and your dentist look for the underlying cause of your TMJ.
AZ Dentist is your Phoenix area TMJ dentist. If you are suffering from a painful TMJ flare-up, get in touch. We can help.