Temporomandibular joint disorders (called TMJ or TMD) are a group of disorders impacting the head and jaw. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) many cases of TMJ are short-lived and don’t require professional care. Other cases turn into chronic pain that needs professional attention.

But how do you tell the difference? Here are eight signs you should seek professional care for your TMJ:

  • You experience a locked jaw
  • TMJ symptoms interfere with your daily life
  • TMJ pain doesn’t respond to OTC medication
  • TMJ symptoms worsen or don’t improve under home care
  • TMJ symptoms last for more than 7 days
  • TMJ symptoms resolve, but then return
  • You have a family history of serious TMJ
  • You start to experience other types of chronic pain

If you experience at least one of these, we recommend you seek professional care. If you are looking for TMJ treatment in Columbia, SC, please call (803) 781-9090 today for an appointment at Smile Columbia Dentistry.

woman holding her jaw in pain

You Experience a Locked Jaw

A locked jaw is a scary symptom of TMJ. It’s possible that you’ve been hearing joint sounds and/or having trouble opening your jaw as widely these days. Or perhaps you don’t remember any specific symptoms beforehand.

Whether your jaw is locked open or closed, don’t panic, and don’t try to force your jaw with your hands. If you force your jaw with your hands, you can cause yourself serious injury that will lead to worsening TMJ in the future. Instead, it’s best to contact a TMJ dentist’s office, where the dentist or his assistants with experience in TMJ treatment can ease your jaw free. If you can’t get care from a Columbia TMJ dentist quickly, you can visit the emergency room.

TMJ Pain Doesn’t Respond to OTC Medication

Another reason to seek professional care for your TMJ in Columbia is when your TMJ pain is so severe that it doesn’t respond to the recommended doses of over-the-counter (OTC) medications.

If you take the recommended dose of painkillers, and it doesn’t control your pain, don’t simply take more. Instead, seek professional care to determine the cause of your pain and other ways to alleviate it.

TMJ Symptoms Interfere with Your Daily Life

When your TMJ symptoms in Columbia start to interfere with your daily life, it’s time to get professional care. You can’t wait to see if symptoms will resolve if your TMJ is keeping you from living your life.

If locked jaw, pain, or other symptoms prevent you from:

  • Eating even soft foods
  • Talking
  • Working
  • Exercising
  • Relaxing
  • Sleeping

Or other daily activities, you should seek professional help.

TMJ Symptoms Worsen or Don’t Improve under Home Care

It’s reasonable to try to manage TMJ at home when you don’t know if your symptoms will resolve. We give advice on how to choose home TMJ treatments that aren’t likely to cause problems. However, if your symptoms get worse or don’t improve under your home care, it’s time to stop what you’re doing and try to get help from a Columbia TMJ dentist.

TMJ Symptoms Last for More Than 7 Days

You shouldn’t try managing TMJ symptoms at home indefinitely. Deciding how long is too long is a little difficult, but if any of your home care includes OTC medications, it’s not recommended that you take them for more than 7 days in a row without seeing a doctor. This makes 7 days a good recommendation for time to consult a Columbia TMJ dentist.

However, this is not a hard and fast rule. If it looks like your symptoms are resolving on the eighth day, it makes sense to keep performing care. On the other hand, as we said above, whenever your symptoms seem to worsen, you should seek professional care.

TMJ Symptoms Resolve, but Then Return

For some people, chronic TMJ can start as a series of recurring symptoms. TMJ might pop up, then resolve more or less spontaneously. If this happens several times a year, or if it’s increasing in frequency, it’s time to consider talking to a Columbia TMJ dentist. A TMJ dentist will help you distinguish whether you have a serious condition or if you can continue with home care.

You Have a Family History of Serious TMJ

We aren’t sure of the extent to which TMJ runs in families. However, we know that this has some impact on your risk of developing serious TMJ. A combination of genetics, upbringing, diet, and more can make it more likely that you will develop serious TMJ if a parent or sibling has also developed serious TMJ.

If you know that you have a family history of serious TMJ, it’s good to consult with a Columbia TMJ dentist at the first signs of symptoms. The sooner we detect TMJ, the more we can do to head it off and stop it from becoming serious.

You Start to Experience Other Types of Chronic Pain

Another reason to talk to a Columbia TMJ dentist is if you start to experience other types of chronic pain. People with TMJ often develop other types of chronic pain conditions, including migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), vulvodynia, or others.

One of the theories explaining the link between these conditions is central sensitization. In other words, the brain gets tuned in to pain and begins to amplify pain signals or interpret non-pain signals as pain.

It’s possible (but not proven) that early TMJ treatment might head off the development of other pain conditions. However, even if TMJ treatment doesn’t prevent your other chronic pain, you will have recruited a TMJ dentist to your treatment team, which can be invaluable for dealing with these conditions together.

Is It Time to See a Columbia TMJ Dentist?

If you experience one or more of the above signs, it’s time to see Columbia TMJ dentist Dr. Adam Hahn. Please call (803) 781-9090 or use our online form to schedule an appointment at Smile Columbia Dentistry, located near the intersection of I-26 and Lake Murray Boulevard.