A toothache can be very disruptive. It can make it hard to eat, hard to sleep, and even hard to work or play. 

If you have a toothache, you should get it evaluated and treated, if necessary. However, there’s another possibility you should consider: your toothache might be a sign that you have a temporomandibular joint disorder (called TMJ or TMD). TMJ could be making your toothache worse. In some cases, TMJ might be the reason you have a toothache. 

If you suspect that TMJ might be contributing to or responsible for your toothache, let the Lee’s Summit TMJ dentists at the Center for TMJ and Sleep Apnea help you find effective relief that will not just get rid of the toothache but will protect all your teeth from current and future TMJ-related problems. 

woman holding her jaw/mouth in pain

People with Toothaches Commonly Have TMJ

People often don’t think that their jaw might be related to their toothache, but we’ve found that TMJ is common for our patients with toothaches in Lee’s Summit. 

Nor is it just us. A recent study showed that 54% of people referred for root canal treatment because of toothaches also had TMJ. That’s more than half, although not all had the same relationship between their TMJ and their tooth pain. According to the study:

  • 26% had TMJ unrelated to toothache
  • 20% had TMJ that increased their toothache
  • 8% had TMJ as the only cause of toothache

It’s important to note that among the 26% who had TMJ unrelated to toothache, the relationship referred to is just the current relationship. In this case, TMJ discomfort wasn’t currently affecting their tooth pain. However, it’s possible that for some of these people, TMJ played a causal role in their toothache, which could happen in many ways. 

How TMJ Can Cause Toothache

The temporomandibular joint is your jaw joint, so how can it lead to more severe and more common toothache pain? Our Lee’s Summit dentists have seen this happen in multiple ways, including:

  • High pressure or wear on certain teeth
  • Chipped teeth
  • Cracked teeth
  • Excess pressure causes stress to gums, bones, and ligaments
  • Difficulty opening the mouth interferes with oral hygiene

One of the most common effects of TMJ is uneven pressure on your teeth. When you have TMJ, some teeth might experience much more biting force than others. This can wear down the tooth enamel faster, putting the tooth at increased risk for cavities. Other times, the pressure itself can make the tooth sensitive. Your tooth is hard, but it’s also flexible, and frequent compression can irritate the living part inside the tooth, causing it to swell. With no way to expand, this swelling makes the tooth sensitive. 

In addition to wear, the excess pressure can damage the tooth. It could cause the tooth to chip, either at the crown or near the gumline (in a process called abfraction). Or it could cause the tooth to crack outright, which can allow bacteria to penetrate the tooth. This leads to a tooth infection. 

Pressure doesn’t just affect your tooth. It also bears down on the tooth’s supports, and it can lead to negative effects like receding gums, damaged bones, and strained ligaments. These could contribute to gum disease. 

Finally, people with TMJ often can’t open their mouths very wide, and sometimes this interferes with oral hygiene, leading to more cavities and more gum disease. 

When to Get Evaluated for TMJ If You Have a  Toothache

Not everyone with toothache has TMJ, so how do you know when you should see a Lee’s Summit TMJ dentist if you have a toothache?

The most common reason is if you get a treatment related to your toothache (such as a filling or root canal therapy) but your pain doesn’t resolve. In this case, you might be someone who has TMJ. 

In addition, the study showed that TMJ was more common in people who had:

  • More severe toothache
  • Daily or near-daily pain
  • Pain in more than one tooth
  • Sensitivity to touch or pressure on the tooth
  • More frequent use of pain medication
  • Psychological distress and high perceived stress
  • Diagnosis of apical periodontitis

People who experience these symptoms related to their toothache should get evaluated for TMJ. TMJ can make any tooth pain worse and more frequent because it would constantly aggravates the sensitive tooth. This might lead you to lean on pain medication more often.

Plus, having pain in more than one tooth is a giveaway that you might have TMJ, because your bite is putting pressure on multiple teeth at once. It’s especially suspicious if you have pain in opposing teeth.

Stress is commonly associated with TMJ. If you have high levels of stress, it could be causing teeth clenching (bruxism) that might be linked to both your TMJ and your toothaches. 

Get Relief from TMJ in Lee’s Summit

If you have a toothache that you think might be related to TMJ, let Dr. Jim Kleoppel at the Center for TMJ & Sleep Apnea in Lee’s Summit help. He can evaluate you for the condition and help you get relief from symptoms like toothache and tooth wear. At the Center for TMJ & Sleep Apnea, we offer many TMJ treatment options, including highly effective holistic treatments like ozone therapy

Please call (816) 795-1000 or use our online form to request an appointment at the Center for TMJ & Sleep Apnea in Lee’s Summit.