Thanksgiving is the big kickoff for the festive holiday season for visiting with family and friends. Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and more can lead to big social gatherings.

This can be a truly joyous time, but it can also be a painful time, thanks in part to temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ).

Here’s why your symptoms might flare up, and what symptoms to watch for as you’re celebrating. 

woman sitting at home, suffering from jaw pain

Why TMJ Symptoms Can Flare Up over the Holidays

What causes TMJ symptoms to flare up just when you’re celebrating? There are many factors that go into the increased frequency of TMJ symptoms at this time.

First, you are eating different kinds of foods. Some of these foods are notoriously tough to chew–like the dry turkey that your aunt always makes. Others might require you to open your mouth wide, like the leftover turkey sandwich you always make with everything on it.

You might also be drinking a lot more caffeine and alcohol than usual. Both of these can contribute to teeth clenching and grinding, and clenching and grinding your teeth often leads to headaches and other TMJ symptoms.

Speaking of clenching and grinding, another part of the problem is stress. While you might love your family and friends, they might also come with stress. You might also feel stress from the challenges of organizing events, doing holiday shopping, and still trying to enjoy yourself. No wonder many people are stressed out at this time of year.

Add to the list the need to do seasonal tasks like hauling gifts, putting up decorations, and even shoveling snow, and your jaw joints are being put under extreme strain at this time.

Is this strain too much? The appearance of these symptoms can tell. 

Jaw Pain and Fatigue

Do you find that your jaw pain starts when you’re chewing that tough turkey? Or do you just find that you get tired from chewing, even if the food isn’t particularly difficult? This could be a sign that you’ve got TMJ. TMJ can lead to inefficient jaw motions that make your jaw muscles tired. Or your jaw muscles might never get to relax, even when you’re not using them, causing them to hurt often or at the slightest demands on them.

Headaches and Migraines

Although TMJ is a jaw disorder, it can trigger headaches. The jaw muscles extend all the way up to your temples, and when they are sore, it can feel like a headache. In addition, jaw muscles are the largest muscles in your head. When they get sore, they can pass that soreness on to other muscles in the head and neck, leading to widespread tension headaches.

TMJ can also overstimulate the trigeminal nerve, which both controls the jaw muscles and acts as a trigger point for migraines. People with TMJ often experience more frequent and more severe migraines as a result.

Popping, Clicking or Grinding Jaw

A healthy functioning jaw should be able to do its work largely in silence. However, people with TMJ often experience jaw sounds. The jaw might pop or click each time you open or close it. This is a sign that the cartilage disc that’s supposed to cushion your temporomandibular joints is slipping in and out of place. When the cushioning disc is degraded or won’t go back into place, you might hear a grinding sound instead as the jaw bones rub against each other. This can be both painful and destructive.

Jaw grinding is a sign that you should seek urgent treatment, but it might also mean that your treatment options are limited. 

Irregular or Restricted Jaw Motion and Locked Jaw

Jaw sounds often occur along with irregular jaw motions. You might notice that your jaw tends to suddenly jerk or skip at the very point when you hear the sound of the cushioning disc moving in and out of place. Locked jaw often occurs when the cushioning disc can’t slide back into place, and can be a frightening moment. When this happens, don’t try to force your jaw closed–seek help from a professional that knows how to maneuver the disc back into place without damaging the jaw.

However, irregular jaw motion doesn’t always go along with jaw sounds. You might find that your chewing is suddenly off, or that  you can’t open your mouth as wide as you used to, making it hard to eat certain foods. 

Ringing in the Ears and Other Ear-Related Symptoms

Ear symptoms are common in TMJ. The temporomandibular jaw joint is directly below and in front of your ear. The two aren’t just physically close, they share common structures that tie the function of the jaw together with the function of the ear. 

The ringing in your ears, called tinnitus, might be from someone cranking the volume on the Christmas carols or it might be related to TMJ. If it’s related to TMJ, tinnitus often–but not always–modulates when you move your jaw. You might also feel ear pain and stuffiness. Other people get vertigo or dizziness from TMJ. If you find  you’re feeling tipsy and you haven’t even touched the punch, you might have TMJ.

TMJ Relief in Fort Atkinson

If you find you’re experiencing these or other TMJ symptoms, whether over the holidays at any time of year, Bite Align in Fort Atkinson is here to help. TMJ dentist Dr. Jennifer Stafford can listen to your description of symptoms and perform a thorough exam to diagnose TMJ. Then she can recommend noninvasive and drug-free treatment that can give immediate, long-lasting relief.

Please call (920) 563-7323or use our online form today for an appointment at Bite Align in Fort Atkinson.