Sorry to hear that things have been a bit rough for you. I know it's our tendancy to adapt to discomfort and keep going but it really sounds to me like there is an issue that needs to be addressed. From my limited experience, from what I've read and heard many others on these sites describe, this type of issue doesn't tend to go away on its own, it rather tends to get worse.
The good news is that if you can catch TMJ issues at the beginning, they are much easier to treat and you can nip it in the bud before things degenerate. It often seems to start with popping/pain issues in one ear and then it's a matter of time before the second gets involved.
I've been through the wringer with finally getting the right TMJ help and I've spent enough time listening to others' stories that I've learned this is a common problem! Many people end of worsening their issues because of allowing their general dentist to treat TMJD or getting to the wrong type of specialist who misdiagnoses or mistreats their issue and then they are in trouble.
Jesiej, I'm not trying to scare you - I'm just hoping another person in pain doesn't have to suffer because of the current confusion in the state of dentistry with regard to TMJ. Unlike most medical fields, there are no best practices as yet - in fact, there is great debate over treatments and a huge divide among neuromuscular (NM) dentists.
General dentists know shockingly little about TMJD and can easily steer you in the wrong direction or set you up with a splint/nightguard that may cause more damage.
TMJ is so complex and tricky to treat that you should really seek out the best neuromuscular dentist, with a proven record of treatment success and a ton of TMJ post-grad education under their belt. The important thing is to find out the cause of your TMJD as it can be caused by many different things and the treatment really needs t fit the cause. There are different types of neuromuscular dentists, modern and traditional, and they offer totally different kinds of treatment as they believe the causes of TMJD are different. So depending on which you see, you may or may not find the right treatment for you. I spent an extra year in pain because I started off with a traditional NM dentist and spent a ton of money on treatments (least invasive/safest first) and nightguards that only worsened my situation. Because the cause of my TMJ was a bite issue, and traditional NM dentists refuse to acknowledge this as a real issue, he was no help. He told me there was nothing I could do except botox (eek!) - thank goodness I didn't listen to him. I finally found an amazing modern NM dentist and went into reposition splint/orthodontics and I’m pain free for the first time in years.
Now, on the other hand, if someone with a muscle-based issue went to modern NM dentist and was mis-treated by being fit with a repositional splint (maybe the dentist is incompetent or looking for $), this person would spend tons of money on the wrong treatment and possibly end up in more pain and/or a bad bite.
So it’s a good idea to try to find out what the cause of your TMJ is when/if you are diagnosed with TMJ– as they are varied. Once you know this, you can find the right type of NM dentist. Find the find the absolute best in your city or state and travel if necessary to see them. Once this happens, start with reversible and non-invasive treatment to see if they help first.
Money is tight for most and sadly, there is often not coverage for the best TMJD treatments, but don't let this be the cause of your issues getting worse, not seeing the right specialist or getting the wrong treatment. It's too easy for TMJ issues to get really debilitating and your health is the most valuable thing you've got!
Hope things work out for you