Have you ever experienced persistent jaw pain after a dental procedure? While some discomfort is expected, prolonged jaw pain could be a sign of a more serious issue. If left untreated, it may lead to chronic temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain disorders. In this article, we will explore the mechanics of jaw injury during dental work and provide you with a plan for jaw pain relief.
Understanding Jaw Pain After the Dentist
There are several factors that make the TMJ complex vulnerable to injury during dental procedures. The temporomandibular joint, along with the surrounding muscles and ligaments, is one of the most complex and frequently used joint systems in the body. With its floating articular disc, major and minor ligaments, and four paired muscles, the TMJ enables us to eat and speak.
During dental work, the jaw is often hyperextended beyond its comfortable limit. While you may be asked to “open wide,” instruments and hands in the mouth can push the jaw beyond this limit. This hyperextension can cause trauma to the TMJ ligaments and muscles, leading to a reflex where the muscles contract and become tense. Additionally, prolonged dental procedures, even without hyperextension, can trigger a guarding reflex in the jaw muscles. Studies have shown that a significant number of people who undergo dental procedures lasting over two hours experience TMJ pain a week or more after the procedure. If you know you’ll have a lengthy dental procedure, consider requesting a break in between to minimize the risk of jaw pain.
Another source of TMJ pain after dental work is trauma from the injection of local anesthesia. Symptoms of injection trauma usually appear within the first few days after the procedure and may manifest as numbness and tingling rather than soreness and pain.
From Jaw Strain to TMJ Disorders
The guarding reflex in the jaw muscles is a common result of the aforementioned mechanisms of injury. This muscle hyperreactivity serves as a bridge between acute injuries and chronic TMJ pain. Here’s how it works:
- Persistent muscle tension after a strain injury leads to decreased oxygenation, muscle fatigue, and increased pain.
- Routine use of the jaw during eating or mouth opening begins to trigger pain signals.
- These persistent pain signals induce a hyperexcitable state in the neurons of the central nervous system, known as “central sensitization.”
- Even normal sensations in the TMJ region now register as pain in the brain, resulting in more guarding, fatigue, and pain.
This vicious cycle of pain characterizes chronic TMJ disorders. Even though the initial injury may have been microtrauma to the ligaments, chronic muscle tension and central sensitization perpetuate the pain long after the ligamentous injury has healed.
“Strain injuries from dental procedures need to be taken seriously. Over 50% of people with chronic TMJ pain attribute their pain to dental work. The key to preventing chronic TMJ pain is to aggressively treat jaw pain in its acute phase,” explains Bradley Eli, DMD, MS, an orofacial pain specialist.
Finding Jaw Pain Relief
To achieve jaw pain relief, a comprehensive approach that utilizes multiple tools is recommended. Here are the main components of a multimodal treatment approach:
- Jaw Rest: Start a strict soft food diet and avoid anything hard or chewy to give your jaw a break.
- Jaw Exercises: Physical therapy exercises for the jaw have been proven effective in relieving pain.
- Hot/Cold Therapy: Alternating heat and cold can provide significant pain relief to sore muscles. Heat also improves jaw range of motion by increasing tissue extensibility.
- Pain Management: Self-directed pain management exercises, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, can be powerful tools for relieving pain. Over-the-counter analgesics can also be helpful.
- Oral Splint Therapy: Using an anterior bite guard like the QuickSplint® overnight can relieve tense jaw muscles and provide rapid relief to fatigued, sore muscles.
All these interventions are included in the Speed2Treat® Home Healing Kit. Designed by orofacial pain specialists, this kit provides everything you need to comprehensively treat acute jaw pain. Don’t let your jaw pain develop into a chronic TMJ condition. Begin your journey towards jaw pain relief today with the Speed2Treat® Home Healing Kit!
Remember, taking care of your jaw after dental work is crucial to avoid long-term pain. If you experience prolonged jaw pain, seek professional advice from a dental specialist or orofacial pain expert. Make You Smile cares about your well-being, so learn more about oral health and wellness at Make You Smile.