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Maida Smiles (W. London)

Tel: 020 3974 1777
15 Jul

Why Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Pain Is Often Confused With Toothache?


Did you know that temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain can mimic root canal pain? TMJ can put anyone out of action due to the severity of the pain. Because of its location and symptoms, it can often be confused with dental pain. If you have jaw pain and aren’t sure if it’s TMJ disorder or a toothache, speak to a member of the Maida Smiles’ who will quickly be able to diagnose the problem and alleviate the pain.

What Is TMJ Disorder?

TMJ disorder affects the temporomandibular joint, which connects your jawbone to the skull on each side of your face. The joints are responsible for opening and closing your mouth, working together as a hinge when you chew, speak or swallow by controlling the lower jaw as it moves forward, backwards and side to side. 

Like most body parts, your TMJ can sometimes become inflamed and cause pain. Those that have experienced TMJ pain, they will recognise that it can mimic root canal pain with common symptoms of a dull ache in your jaw, headaches and radiating pain.

Causes of TMJ 

The TMJ is one of the most complex joints in the human body. There is a temporomandibular joint on each side of your jaw which is cushioned by a disc, similar to the joints in your spine. The joint or disc can cause inflammatory pain if you suffer from the following:

  • – Lengthy dental work
  • – Teeth grinding
  • – Trauma
  • – Stress
  • – Poor posture of the head

Whatever the cause, these discs can become entrapped either behind or in front of the hinge of the joint in your jaw. This can cause a clicking sensation that you can hear and feel when you open and close your mouth.

The symptoms in more detail

TMJ symptoms can range from mild to severe and include pain in the jaw, aching pain around the ear, and difficulty or pain when eating. In severe cases, the jaw can lock, which makes it hard to open and close your mouth.

Because of its location near many muscles, nerves, and ligaments, TMJ pain can radiate to other parts of your face, neck, and head. This is known as referred pain. Some pain radiates upward, which may cause pain in the head, ear, eyes, etc. However, when the pain radiates downward, it can cause pain near your teeth.

Pain from TMJ can be dull, sharp, searing, sporadic, constant, etc. Different types of toothaches cause similar pain, which may cause patients to believe they suffer from a toothache instead of TMJ disorder. TMJ also causes tooth pain by irritating trigger points. These trigger points form when the muscle becomes contracted and stiff. Less oxygenated blood reaches the area, and more toxins are held, causing tenderness.

How to Differentiate between TMJ Pain and Toothache

First, take a look inside your mouth to check for any cavities, chips, or cracks which may be causing the pain. Similarly, if you have a tooth infection, you may see signs of pus. An infected tooth will also smell foul, and you may have a bitter taste in your mouth. If one or more of your teeth is suddenly overly sensitive to heat, cold, or sugar, you probably have a cavity. 

Finally, try resting your face for a time and/or massaging the temporomandibular joint. If the pain seems to lessen or dissipate, it may be TMJ pain. TMJ pain can hurt your entire face, including your teeth, making it hard to determine what kind of pain you are experiencing.