What is a TMJ Disorder?
The TMJ (temporomandibular joint) connects the jaw bone to the skull directly in front of the ears and functions like a flexible hinge that gives the jaw a wide range of motion and the ability to speak, chew, and yawn.
TMJ disorders can cause discomfort in the jaw and surrounding muscles and restricts the range of motion of the jaw joint. There are several factors linked to causing TMJ disorders, but it is often difficult to pinpoint the exact cause.
Symptoms of a TMJ Disorder
- Stiffness, pain, or tenderness in the jaw, neck and shoulders, or around the ears
- Unable to open the mouth very wide
- Difficulty chewing caused by misaligned teeth
- Clicking or popping sound in the jaw joint when the mouth opens and closes
- Locking of the jaw joint, causing difficulty in opening and closing the mouth
- Frequent headaches, earaches, and neck aches
- Swelling around the cheeks and jaw
- Dizziness, hearing problems, ringing in the ears
Factors Linked to TMJ Disorders:
- Injury to the jaw joint or surrounding head and neck muscles
- Clenching or grinding teeth
- Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in the joint
- Dislocation of the joint disc
Treatment Options for TMJ Disorders
There are different levels of treatment for TMJ disorders depending on the severity of the problem and the previous treatments applied.
The primary goal at the outset of your treatment will be aimed at reducing and eventually eliminating your pain.
A pain reliever may be prescribed if an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen, does not seem to help.
Antidepressants may be helpful in relieving pain and stress leading to teeth clenching or grinding.
Another option for providing pain relief for TMJ disorders is taking a regimen of muscle relaxants for a brief period of time.
Sedatives may be prescribed to help avoid teeth clenching at night which often irritates and accentuates TMJ pain.
Non-pharmaceutical treatments often have a positive effect for those suffering from a TMJ disorder.
Stress Management Techniques
Biofeedback or other stress management techniques are extremely helpful for someone suffering from a TMJ disorder that is worsened due to stress.
Wearing an oral splint or nightguard is beneficial in controlling nighttime teeth grinding, clenching, or muscle tension. An oral splint may also protect teeth from being worn down by grinding.
Moist heat and ice, ultrasounds, and stretching exercises are beneficial for pain relief and strengthening the jaw joint.
Surgical Options and Other Procedures
Arthrocentesis is a minimally invasive procedure that is designed to address pain and/or clicking in the tempromandibular joint. The procedure does not address anatomical abnormalities or pathology, but rather seeks to treat a patient’s symptoms of pain and clicking. Arthrocentesis has proven to be very effective in improving patients’ TMJ symptoms and way of life. The procedure seeks to introduce a catheter or catheters into the TMJ space and lavage thoroughly. This lavage serves to wash away the inflammatory fluid that builds up in a diseased joint causing the patients’ symptoms. The catheters are also used to inject steroid or other anti-inflammatory medications, and sometimes lubricating medications. Arthrocentesis on average is successful in reducing or alleviating symptoms in approximately 70% of patients. Arthrocentesis is a procedure that is performed in the office setting, normally with the patient under sedation.
Corticosteroids are injected directly into the jaw joints and are beneficial in relieving pain and inflammation.
In severe cases, restructuring of the jaw may be deemed as the only permanent solution to a TMJ disorder. However, Athens Oral Surgery Center will rarely consider a surgical procedure as a viable option for TMJ disorders unless the jaw joint is dislocated, unable to open, or severely degenerated.