Consquences of Untreated TMJ Pain
What Happens If You Don’t Treat TMJ Pain?When you start to notice pain in any part of your body, it can be easy to ignore. We like to hope the pain will just go away on its own. And sometimes it does. But, unfortunately, there are times when the pain persists. And ignoring it only makes it worse, causing more damage and problems. This is true of TMJ disorders. For many people, TMJ pain will only last a few days. But if it lasts longer you need to get it treated. Untreated TMJ pain can cause a lot of problems down the road. Persistent TMJ pain is a sign that there is something serious going on inside your jaw joint. And you’ll likely need help from a doctor or dentist. The more you ignore it the worse things will get. Treating TMJ pain early is the key to preventing more damage down the road. TMJ pain is not something that you should take lightly. Untreated TMJ pain can have an impact on both your health and quality of life.
You Need to Treat TMJ Pain Early
Like with any other medical condition, TMJ disorders need to be treated early in order to prevent further damage to the jaw joint. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something’s wrong. Ignoring it will only make things worse. And the only way to keep things from getting worse is to take your pain seriously from the beginning. A lot of patients find that they could have avoided more invasive treatments if they had not left their TMJ pain untreated.
For many patients, TMJ pain can be treated with rest, over-the-counter medication, and ice/heat therapy. Even these simple steps can help keep your jaw joint pain from getting worse. In fact, resting your joint is one of the most important things you can do for TMJ pain. The more you use your joint, the worse the pain and inflammation get. And while it probably seems difficult to rest your jaw joint, it’s not impossible. You can rest your jaw joint by going on a soft food diet for a while. Avoid hard, chewy foods like steak, crusty bread, and nuts. Instead, look for foods that are easy to bite and chew like cooked sweet potatoes, eggs, and soup. This diet gives your TMJ a chance to heal.
If taking these steps doesn’t help your jaw joint, you need to see your doctor or dentist as soon as possible. Remember, pain is your body’s way of telling you there’s a problem. And if that pain lasts more than a few days, there’s something serious going on with your joint. You need a doctor to help diagnose the problem. Then, they can help you work out a treatment plan.
Why Do I Need to Treat TMJ Pain?
Untreated TMJ pain can have an impact on different areas of your life. Of course, there are physical effects. And these physical effects extend beyond your jaw joint. Untreated TMJ pain also impacts your quality of life.
Physical Effects of Untreated TMJ Pain
The physical effects of untreated TMJ pain of course include further damage to your jaw joint. If there is any kind of damage to the jaw joint, the synovial fluid may not be able to cover the cartilage cells that surround the joint. The cartilage cells will become thin. Over time, the bones underneath the cartilage will then also begin to break down. This causes the jaw joint to shift. Shifted jaw joints affect your bite. And having a bad bite can cause more TMJ pain.
Your jaw joint isn’t the only thing affected by untreated TMJ pain.
Headaches and migraines are another common side effect of TMJ disorders. One of the muscles that move your jaw covers each side of your head. So when your jaw joint hurts, that inflammation can spread to those muscles, causing headaches. The trigeminal nerve also plays a role in TMJ headaches. MRIs have shown that this nerve is often stimulated during migraines and tension headaches. This nerve sits very close to your jaw joints. So, when you’re experiencing pain in your jaw joint, it can spread to this nerve.
Another side effect of untreated TMJ pain is obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea happens when your breathing is interrupted while you sleep. This is usually due to a small or blocked airway. The shifting caused by a TMJ disorder can make the jaw shift backward. When this happens it’s harder for air to get through easily. And it’s even worse when your muscles relax as you fall asleep.
Sleep apnea is actually a very serious condition. When you’re air is cut off because of sleep apnea, your body wakes itself up to reopen your airway. It’s very brief and you don’t know that it happens. But it does impact your sleep. Sleep deprivation because of sleep apnea can lead to accidents while you’re driving, problems paying attention at work, as well as other physical issues like heart attacks and strokes.
If you want to avoid these issues, you need to take TMJ pain seriously. The earlier you treat TMJ pain, the better chance you have at avoiding these other issues.
How Untreated TMJ Pain Affects Quality of Life
The effects of untreated TMJ pain go beyond the physical. Not treating TMJ pain will eventually affect the quality of your life.
Untreated TMJ pain can lead to mental health issues. Persistent TMJ pain often causes anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, this can create a bit of a vicious circle. One of the common causes of TMJ disorders is bruxism. Bruxism is when you clench and grind your teeth. And it’s usually caused by stress. So, the bruxism caused by stress leads to TMJ pain. But as the pain gets worse, you feel more stressed. And so you continue to grind and clench your teeth. This in turn leads to more TMJ pain. Treating TMJ pain early is the best way to stop this cycle.
TMJ pain also causes you to miss things. Jaw joint pain makes it hard to open your mouth to eat. So, you’re not able to eat your favorite foods. Things like apples, steak, candy, and crusty bread become almost impossible to eat. This can be frustrating when you go out to eat or have a family meal. Untreated TMJ pain can often get so bad that you have to also miss work or school.
How Do You Treat TMJ Pain?
As we’ve seen, it’s important to treat TMJ pain as soon as you can.
The type of treatment you need depends on how severe your pain is. Most of the time you should be fine with rest, OTC pain medication, and ice/heat therapy.
If these don’t work your doctor or dentist will recommend a mouthguard. These mouthguards act like a splint for your jaw. They help support the joint by absorbing the pressure caused by bruxism.
Finally, if the damage to your joint is too severe, you’ll need to consider TMJ surgery. There are several different types of TMJ surgery. The right one for you will depend on the cause of your TMJ pain.
Don’t Leave TMJ Pain UntreatedPain is your body’s way of telling you something’s wrong. And if you ignore TMJ pain, it won’t always go away on its own. Untreated TMJ pain can have a major impact on your life. It can affect your physical health by causing more and more damage to your joint. And untreated TMJ pain will eventually impact your quality of life. TMJ pain keeps you from eating your favorite foods, makes you miss important events, and even affects your work. If you don’t want your TMJ pain to get worse, you need to talk to your doctor or dentist as soon as possible. They’ll be able to take a deeper look at your jaw joint. Once they narrow down the problem, they can help you put together a treatment plan that will help you find relief from TMJ pain.
Collins, K. (2023, February 15). What Happens When TMJ Goes Untreated? Collins Dentistry & Aesthetics. https://www.wemakespokanevalleysmile.com/blog/what-happens-when-tmj-goes-untreated/
Hill, C. (2023, February 15). What Happens if TMJ is Left Untreated? Smile on Dental Studio. https://www.smileonstl.com/blog/what-happens-if-tmj-is-left-untreated/
Nashville Dental Services | Devine Dentistry Nashville TN. (2022, August 3). Devine Dentistry Nashville, TN. https://devinedentistry.com/services/
The Dangers of Untreated TMJ | Robert Rosenfeld, DDS | Solana Beach, CA. (2017, February 18). Robert Rosenfeld DDS. https://www.robertrosenfelddds.com/dangers-of-untreated-tmj/
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