You could be suffering from temporomandibular disorder, or TMJ, which affects the flexibility and function of the temporal jaw joint and surrounding muscles. Because this area controls bite, speech, chewing, and all other jaw movements, the pain can be severe.
TMJ has been associated with a number of different causes, but the most common factor is the bite itself. A misaligned bite can place pressure on the jaw joint, forcing the muscles to work overtime in effort to correctly align the upper and lower jaws. This not only compromises the function of your jaw, but it can cause a good deal of fatigue and pain in the facial muscles. Headaches, toothaches, and jaw clenching, popping, or locking are all common symptoms of TMJ. TMJ can also occur after a jolting face injury which causes a normally aligned jaw joint to become damaged or repositioned.
Professional treatment of TMJ ranges from minor fixes to surgical options. If your dentist determines that the main cause of your TMJ pain is an irregular bite, he or she may recommend a retainer-style mouthguard, or even a reshaping of the biting surfaces of your teeth, to subtly change the way your upper and lower jaws meet. If it’s a structural issue occurring in your jaw bone (especially if your TMJ is a result of injury), you may benefit from surgery. When it comes to TMJ treatment, it’s important to choose the most conservative plan for your individual needs.
In the meantime, alleviating the pain through treating the symptoms can give you some relief. Heating pads or cold compresses can reduce swelling, and limiting your jaw movement (for example, cutting especially chewy foods out of your diet) can stop the clicking or popping. Massages can temporarily relieve muscle tension, and painkillers (medicated or over the counter) can reduce inflammation and make you more comfortable.