Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD) – or as it’s commonly known, TMJ – is an umbrella term used to describe a number of conditions marked by pain in the joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull or its surrounding tissues.
If you’re suffering from TMD, you may be experiencing pain in your jaw, ears, face, neck, or even down into your shoulder and arm. Depending on the severity of the inflammation or overuse that led to the pain, it can be acute and extreme or mild and persistent. Either way, it is difficult even to perform simple chewing and talking when the temporomandibular joint is causing pain.
Fortunately, most cases are mild, and discomfort usually fades without treatment. Here are some frequently asked questions about the TMJ, TMD, and available treatments.
How Long Does TMJ Last?
Most of the time, the pain associated with TMJ disorders will go away within a few days to a couple of weeks. Treating the affected area with ice or heat, taking over-the-counter painkillers or anti-inflammatories, and switching to a soft diet to reduce chewing effort can all help to keep the pain under control until the condition resolves.
In some cases, TMJ disorder may be a more persistent problem, especially if the pain is caused by arthritis or jaw clenching/tooth grinding (bruxism). In those cases, TMJ pain can last until the underlying issue is addressed.
Can TMJ Disorder Go Away By Itself?
In most cases, yes, TMJ disorder will heal itself. Typically, managing the pain as needed is adequate.
There are more severe conditions that can lead to TMJ disorders and which will need to be addressed. If you experience any of the following in addition to jaw pain, you should consider seeing a local TMJ specialist for a more detailed diagnosis:
- New clicking or popping sounds coming from the jaw
- Tenderness or pain that doesn’t go away with over-the-counter painkillers
- The inability to completely open or close your jaw
- Difficulty chewing
- An aching pain in the face
- Uneven wear on your teeth
What TMJ Disorder Treatments Are Available?
There are dozens of treatment options available to alleviate the pain of a TMJ disorder. If home treatment is ineffective, your dentist, oral surgeon, or another TMJ specialist can review available treatment options and let you know which is right for you.
Depending on the cause and the severity of your TMJ disorder, treatment options could include:
In addition to pain relievers and anti-inflammatories to reduce the pain associated with TMJ disorders, doctors may also prescribe medications to address underlying conditions causing the issue. Certain antidepressants may be used to reduce the tendency to grind your teeth or muscle relaxants can reduce muscle spasms in the jaw. If your TMJ disorder is the result of arthritis, certain arthritis medications may be prescribed, as well.
Many cases of TMJ disorder can be treated nonmedically using various therapy techniques:
- Ultrasound therapy can loosen muscle tissues and ligaments, reducing strain on the jaw.
- Custom-fit mouthguards and other dental appliances can help reduce the jaw strain associated with bruxism.
- Exercises are available to stretch and strengthen the muscles in the jaw.
While considerably less common, other more intensive procedures are available to help you manage a TMJ disorder:
- Injections of corticosteroids into the joint can reduce inflammation. In rare cases, botulinum toxin (Botox) can be injected into the jaw muscles to relieve TMJ disorder symptoms.
- Arthrocentesis is a procedure in which a small tube is inserted into the TMJ joint, and a fluid is injected into the joint to flush away irritating debris.
- Surgeries, ranging from minimally invasive arthroscopic procedures to full open-joint surgery may be required for more severe or fully developed cases.
What if I Don’t Address My TMJ Disorder?
While most cases of TMJ disorder will resolve within a few weeks, chronic cases can last for the rest of your life and cause serious, permanent damage to your jaw that carries over into other body parts. Failure to address a case of chronic TMJ can lead to conditions including:
- Damage to the tendons, muscles, and cartilage in your jaw and face
- Nerve damage
- Permanent dislocation of the jaw
- Worn teeth
- Mental complications, including anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
Athens Oral Surgery Is Your Local TMJ Specialist With Years of Experience Treating TMD and Other Jaw Disorders.
Dr. Tomlinson and his team have dealt with thousands of cases of TMD and have the experience to provide quality care to relieve pain and get your mouth back in proper working order. Schedule an appointment by calling 706-549-5033.