What Causes Sudden TMJ Pain?

tmj pain

TMJ pain can be caused by many things. The jaw is one of the most complex joints in the human body, and perhaps one of the most active. It plays a key role in so many everyday activities: eating, talking, breathing, moving the head and neck. Due to its complexity and location, jaw pain is especially irritating. It can spread to the head, neck, and shoulders, interfere with everything we do all day, disrupt sleep, and cause problems at work. One of the most insidious things about TMJ pain is that it can come on suddenly and seemingly for no reason. Understanding the causes of sudden TMJ pain is a big part of treating it, so let’s take a look at where sudden TMJ pain comes from and what you can do about it.

The Hows and Whys of TMJ

TMJ, more formally known as temporomandibular joints, are the hinge of the jaw. Located just forward from your ears where the jaw bone meets the skull, they are a remarkably flexible structure. Able to move up and down, forward and backward, and side to side, they enable you to move your jaw and perform all the activities this allows. Due to their complexity, TMJ pain can have any of a number of causes and determining what issues are giving individual patients problems can be challenging. This becomes clear when we take a look at a list of common TMJ symptoms:

  • Pain or tenderness of your jaw
  • Pain in one or both of the temporomandibular joints
  • Aching pain in and around your ear
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Difficulty chewing or pain while chewing
  • Aching facial pain
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision or the inability to focus your vision
  • Locking of the joint, making it difficult to open or close your mouth

Any of these symptoms alone or in combination may suggest a TMJ disorder of some sort. With the diversity of symptoms like this determining the exact cause can be a challenge, however, they are definitely a sign that something is amiss with your TMJ.

So What Causes TMJ?

While potential causes abound, there are some likely culprits for your sudden onset TMJ pain. While chronic TMJ may be caused by damage to the joint, arthritis, or illness, sudden TMJ has a different set of likely causes. Trauma or damage to the jaw itself is a likely one. As with any joint, the jaw can be bruised, dislocated, or suffer other damage if it sustains impact of some kind. So if you’ve had an accident or a blow to the jaw, that might be the root cause of your TMJ even if it manifests days later. Likewise grinding your teeth, also known as bruxism, may cause TMJ. Speaking of teeth—oral health issues may also cause jaw pain, so a damaged tooth or gum disease might be the problem.

For short term TMJ, massage and hot compresses may prove an effective home treatment. If the pain lasts more than a day or two, it’s important to seek medical advice. TMJ may seem a small thing, but it can indicate big problems and your doctor or dentist can determine the best course of action.