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Have you ever experienced soreness in your jaw after a dental procedure like a root canal or wisdom tooth removal? If so, you’re not alone. In this article, we will explore the causes of jaw pain after dental work and provide you with some effective remedies to relieve TMJ discomfort.
Understanding the Causes of Jaw Pain during a Dental Appointment
Not everyone experiences jaw pain after dental treatment. However, longer and more complex visits, where your mouth is open for extended periods, may lead to discomfort in your jaw joints, also known as TMJ. This is especially true when the dentist is working on a tooth towards the back of your mouth, requiring your mouth to be open wider than usual.
For individuals with existing TMJ disorder (TMD) or limited range of motion, this can be particularly troublesome, as it may cause flare-ups in the joint and surrounding muscles. Dentists should be aware of this issue before performing any procedure. In fact, dental X-rays can often reveal visible signs of joint irregularities in patients with clinical TMD.
While not directly related to your jaw, some patients may experience pain similar to TMJ discomfort due to the local anesthetic. This is because numbing medications are injected into the soft tissues at the back of the mouth, which can result in soreness for a day or two after the appointment. Depending on the proximity of the injection site to the back of your mouth, it can make your jaw feel sore, similar to a temporary bruise or sore arm after receiving a vaccine.
Oral surgery patients, such as those who have had their wisdom teeth removed, may experience soreness and swelling for up to 10-14 days following the procedure. Inflammation on one or both sides of the face is common, as well as limited opening abilities until the surgical sites fully heal.
How Your Dentist Can Prevent Jaw Pain
Fortunately, there are measures your dentist can take to prevent jaw pain during your dental procedure. One such method is the use of a “bite block.” This small, rubbery prop provides a cushion between your upper and lower jaw, essentially holding your mouth open for you and allowing your muscles to relax. Dentists can choose from various sizes of bite blocks, ensuring the most comfortable fit for your mouth.
For shorter procedures, a bite block may not be necessary. However, if holding your mouth open causes jaw soreness, don’t hesitate to ask your dentist if a bite block is available.
Home Remedies for Jaw Discomfort after Dental Treatment
If you experience TMJ discomfort after a lengthy dental appointment, here are some helpful remedies recommended by most dentists:
Taking an Over-the-Counter Pain Reliever
Consider using an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen (Motrin) to reduce discomfort. These non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) work effectively for inflammation and swelling, the most common causes of tooth or jaw pain. Always follow the directions on the packaging when taking medication.
Resting Your Jaw
Try consuming softer foods in the days immediately following your dental appointment. Avoid firm or chewy textures that may agitate the jaw. It’s also best to refrain from chewing gum, as excessive use of the TMJ can trigger flare-ups.
Alternating Warm and Cold Compresses
Applying a warm compress to your face for 20 minutes, followed by a cold compress for 20 minutes, can provide relief. Some dental professionals recommend this alternating technique, while others suggest using only the cold compress. Experiment with both methods to see which works best for you.
When Jaw Pain Persists
In most cases, jaw or TMJ discomfort gradually improves within a few days after a dental procedure. However, if your symptoms persist for more than two weeks, it’s essential to consult your dentist or oral surgeon.
Your dentist may prescribe a muscle relaxer to help alleviate your sore jaw. In rare situations, the joint may become dislocated, or the jaw’s internal disc may not be properly positioned, causing prolonged discomfort. Although these scenarios are exceedingly uncommon, your dentist or a dental specialist may need to manually adjust your joint or recommend physical therapy to address the issue.
Persistent jaw pain is not normal. If your symptoms do not improve or worsen, be sure to contact your dentist for further evaluation.
Preventive Measures before Dental Procedures
If you have a long dental appointment scheduled, taking certain steps beforehand can help reduce the risk of jaw pain afterward. Consider the following:
- Avoid hard, crunchy, or sticky foods (including chewing gum) in the week leading up to and following your appointment.
- Wear a bite splint or nightguard if you tend to clench or grind your teeth.
- Reduce caffeine intake, limit nicotine usage, and minimize external stressors whenever possible.
By communicating your tendency for jaw pain to your dentist before planning any treatment, special accommodations can be made to lower the risk of experiencing jaw or TMJ pain. Remember, avoiding the dentist altogether can lead to more complex, expensive, and time-consuming treatments. It’s best to address dental issues when they are still minor and less painful.
For more information on dental care and tips to keep you smiling, visit Make You Smile.