Treatment of TMJ or Temporomandibular Disorders
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the hinge that connects your jaw to your skull. It lets you move your jaw up and down and side to side. These joints get a lot of use every day as you talk, eat, swallow, and yawn. Problems with your jaw and its muscles are known as temporomandibular disorders (TMD).
TMD can cause pain or tenderness in your face, jaw, neck, shoulders, or in or around your ears when you open your mouth wide, chew, or talk. Your jaw may get “locked” in the open or closed position. You may have clicking, popping, or grating sounds when you open and close your mouth or chew.
You may experience swelling on one or both sides of your face. You may also notice that your bite doesn’t align properly. You may experience toothaches, headaches, hearing problems, earaches, neck, and/or shoulder pain. TMD can cause severe pain and discomfort that can last for years and can affect one or both sides of the face.
There isn’t one exact cause for TMD. Injuries to your jaw, the joint, or the muscles of your head and neck can lead to TMD. Other common causes include grinding or clenching of teeth, the movement of the soft cushion or disc between the ball and socket of the joint, arthritis, and stress – which can cause you to tighten your facial and jaw muscles and clench your teeth.
To determine the best treatment for your TMD, our dentists will examine you and ask for a full health history. We may also take X-rays or ask for other tests like MRI or CT scans. Once our dental specialists have a better idea of what’s causing your TMD, they can offer several treatments:
- Medications like over-the-counter pain relievers, tricyclic antidepressants, sedatives, and muscle relaxants.
- Bite guards or oral splints to help prevent damage from clenching or grinding of teeth.
- Physical therapy, including ultrasound, electrical nerve stimulation, and radio wave therapies.
- Dental work to repair or correct a bite problem.
- Arthrocentesis may be used if you have no major history of TMJ, but your jaws are locked. It can be performed in your dentist’s office. You’ll receive general anesthesia, and your dentist will insert needles or special tools into the joint to wash it out, get rid of damaged tissue or dislodge a stuck disc, or to unstick the joint itself.
- Arthroscopy is is surgery done with an arthroscope – a special tool with a lens and a light on it to allow the dental surgeon to see inside the joint. Under general anesthesia, the doctor will make a small cut in front of your ear and insert the arthroscope. Using this tool with a video monitor, the doctor will examine your joint and the area around it, remove inflamed tissue, or realign the disc or joint. This minimally invasive surgery has fewer complications and requires a shorter recovery time than a major operation.
- If complications prevent the dental surgeon from performing surgery with the arthroscope, open joint surgery may be necessary. This requires general anesthesia, and the surgeon will open up the entire area surrounding the join for better access. Open joint surgery requires a longer recovery time, and there is a greater risk of scarring and nerve damage.
If you are experiencing jaw pain, schedule a consultation with one of our dental specialists to discuss TMD, and see if one of our treatment options can help.