A TMJ disorder expert explains if this is necessarily painful, or if this can present with no pain at all while still causing movement problems.
Is it possible to have a TMJ disorder (known as TMD or temperomandiular joint disorder) without actually feeling any pain?
“The symptoms can be pain (what brings most to the office), clicking, popping and locking, limited motion or bite changes,” says Donald R. Tanenbaum, DDS, MPH, a board certified TMJ and orofacial pain specialist, and author of “Doctor, Why Does My Face Still Ache.”
Dr. Tanenbaum continues, “Therefore, not all concerns relate to pain. Some relate to not being able to open their mouth wider than one finger’s width, or jaws locking open or in a closed position but without pain.
“Others cannot bring their teeth together in a normal fashion. Pain is a function of inflammation primarily in the joint itself or the associated muscles.”
Muscle Problem, not Bone Problem
Dr. Tanenbaum adds that for most people who’ve been told they have a TMJ disorder, their joint is actually fine, and they just have muscle pain.
“Problematic muscles can lead to pain, and restricted motion, along with bite changes. The pain can be in the jaw region or referred to the teeth, ears, eyes and facial regions.
“So at times the location of the pain is not the source of the pain. Muscle pain may be due to inflammation or chemical changes such as the accumulation of lactic acid due to muscle overuse, which can occur due to habits or emotions.”
In other words, a person who holds their teeth in a clenched position during moments of anger or stress, may end up with pain or aching in the muscles that control this motion.
The muscles in the jaw are like the muscles anywhere else in the body: prone to soreness and aching from overuse.
“Most people without pain but with some joint noise or limited jaw motion do not come in for care, though women more commonly come looking for an answer.
“Men virtually never come unless they really hurt or their jaw is locked.”
Dr. Tanenbaum’s practice focuses on facial pain, TMJ disorder and sleep-related breathing disorders. He is the past president of the American Academy of Orofacial Pain and takes a multidisciplinary approach to his patients’ care.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.