If you deal with TMJ, then you may dread going to the dentist in case you have a flare-up afterward.
Unfortunately, you cannot just skip visiting the dentist, as your oral health is vital. It affects your overall quality of life, such as the ability to eat and live pain-free. If you leave dental problems alone, they can worsen, and some, like infections, can even affect other aspects of your health.
If you are putting off a regular dental checkup or dental treatment because of TMJ, you may feel more at ease by learning how long it will last and some ways to deal with it.
A Refresher on TMJ Flare-ups
For those who need a quick refresher, the following are some of the symptoms you may notice during a TMJ flare-up.
- Locking of your jaw or clicking
- Jaw discomfort, tenderness, or pain
- Pain in the jaw joint
- Grating feeling or noise in the jaw joint
- Facial swelling and warmth
- Issues chewing or opening your mouth
- Ticking or clicking noises while eating
- Reduced jaw mobility
- Locked jaw
- Ear pain
- Neck pain
- Hearing issues
- Tinnitus (a ringing in your ears)
- Muscle spasms
- Headaches or migraines
How Long the Flare-up Will Likely Last
There is no set rule for how long your TMJ flare-up will last, as it varies based on the person and numerous other factors. They may last several hours or may last several days. In some cases, it can even last several weeks.
The good news is that if you already have some treatment methods in place, you may successfully reduce how long your flare-up lasts. You may also successfully reduce the intensity of the flare-up.
Why Are TMJ Flare-ups After Dental Work Common?
Most people with TMJ have experienced a flare-up after dental work at least once. The risk of flare-ups comes down to the first of the three main causes of TMJ, injury or trauma. Even gentle dental work completed by a professional like Dr. Dhiraj Sharma may be enough to count as “trauma” to your jaw.
Your Jaw Position
For most patients with TMJ, the main issue is that your jaw has to be in a certain position during any dental work, even if it is just a checkup. Anytime your jaw is open for longer than normal, you run the risk of experiencing a flare-up and pain. This means that while you may have a flare-up after a checkup, you are more likely to have one after lengthy procedures.
The jaw position alone is not the only cause of a TMJ flare-up following dental work. Stress also contributes. Stress is among the most common causes of TMJ symptoms. When stressed, this is common because people are more likely to grind their teeth and clench their jaw, even unconsciously.
Was the Flare-up From Dental Work or Something Else? Other Causes of TMJ Flare-ups
If you experience a TMJ flare-up after visiting the dentist, you will also have to ask yourself whether it was the dental work that caused it or something else. Remember that any of the following can cause or increase the risk of TMJ flare-ups:
- Deterioration due to arthritis
- Erosion of your jaw joint or disc
- Trauma or injury
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Hormone levels
- Chewing hard food
- Weak neck muscles
- Medications that cause clenching and grinding
We already discussed how stress could cause a flare-up by causing you to clench your jaw. Some of these other causes also require some extra explanation.
Eating hard foods or items that are sticky and chewy can lead to flare-ups because of the extra pressure on your jaw. That pressure can lead to joint pain.
Poor posture can cause issues by pushing your lower jaw more forward than it should be. This, in turn, disrupts how your jaw muscles normally operate.
Weak neck muscles may increase the strain on your jaw.
What Affects How Long the Flare-up Will Last After Dental Work
As mentioned, everyone is different, so there is no guarantee as to how long your TMJ flare-up will last after your dental procedure or checkup. The following factors all play a role in how long it will last:
- The severity of your TMJ
- The underlying TMJ causes
- The treatments
How to Reduce Your TMJ Flare-up Before the Dental Work
The good news is that you can take some steps to reduce the risk or severity of a TMJ flare-up before you even have the dental work done. Most of this comes down to reducing your stress and giving your jaw a break.
Always let your dentist know that you have TMJ and if you are feeling anxious about it. Many patients find that just having their dentist explain the procedure in more detail is enough to ease their minds and relieve the stress. If that is not enough, your dentist may even prescribe you a mild sedative to help calm you down and relax you.
If your dentist knows that you have TMJ, he can also plan some brief breaks during dental work. This will give you a chance to stretch your jaw and massage it. That should reduce the risk of a flare-up or its severity, given that your jaw being in the same position for an extended time is a major cause.
How to Manage the Pain From a TMJ Flare-up After Dental Work
If you do get unlucky and experience a flare-up after having dental work done, you can manage the pain using the same methods you would use for any other cause of a flare-up. Some of the common solutions include:
- Over-the-counter pain relievers
- Applying ice or heat – Use a pattern of 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off
- Eating soft foods and staying away from hard or chewy ones
- Gently massaging your jaw, which boosts blood flow to promote healing
- Gently moving or stretching your jaw
- Trying to relax via meditation or other techniques (overall relaxation should also relax the muscles in your face)
- Trying to reduce stress
- Avoid resting your head on top of your chin
- Wearing a mouthguard at night
Always Identify the Cause
Anytime you experience a TMJ flare-up, whether related to dental work or something else, you should always start by figuring out the cause. This lets you target the flare-up at its source.
For example, if you are grinding your teeth because of stress related to dental work or life in general, your dentist may suggest using a mouthguard when you sleep at night.
The Bottom Line
Your TMJ flare-up after dental work may last just a few hours or up to a few weeks. You should never avoid or put off dental work because of concerns about your TMJ. Putting off a dental procedure or treatment can cause it to worsen, requiring more invasive or extensive treatment. That future treatment may be harder on your TMJ and more expensive.
The two main causes of TMJ from dental work have your jaw in the same position for an extended period and stress. You can work to address both of these by talking to your dentist in downtown Chicago. The result should hopefully be a reduced flare-up.