The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a sliding hinge that connects the jawbone to the skull on either side of the jaw. Several types of disorders can develop in this area, causing significant pain and, in some cases, a loss of function of the hinge. TMJ disorders are often related to the jaw joint or the muscles that control the movement of the jaw. At Millennium Family Dental, we treat most conditions related to this area.
In some cases, this pain is temporary and fades after a few minutes or up to several days. Most often, it can be relieved with nonsurgical treatments if it lasts longer than this. In more complex cases, surgical procedures may be necessary. That’s something patients can speak to their doctor about after all other treatment methods are exhausted.
TMJ disorders are complex conditions. It’s not always easy to determine the cause of them. The pain may be due to various factors, including arthritis, jaw injury, or genetics. Some with this type of pain have bruxism, a condition in which a person mindlessly grinds or clenches their teeth. Not all people that have bruxism develop TMJ disorders, though.
The joint in this area works as a hinge moving back and forth and has the ability to slide. Each of the bones in this area involved in those processes is covered with cartilage. Between each is a small disk of shock-absorbing material that allows the hinge to work without allowing the bones to rub against each other in the process.
TMJ disorders are often caused by:
- The cartilage becoming damaged by the development of arthritis
- The disk eroding over time
- The disk moving out of its natural alignment
- A blow or other impact to the area dislodges or damages the joint
A person may be at a higher risk for developing this condition if they’ve had a jaw injury, have a diagnosis of arthritis in any other area, have long-term teeth clenching or grinding habits, or they have a connective tissue disease.
Common Symptoms of TMJ
Symptoms of TMJ disorder range from mild and infrequent to severe and limiting. Some of them include:
- Tenderness or pain in the jaw
- Pain in one or both of these joints
- Trouble chewing
- Pain while chewing
- Aching facial pain often near the jaw
- Aching pain in the ear
- Locking of the jaw, which makes it hard to open the mouth
Some people can feel or hear a clicking sound when opening and closing their mouth, especially when chewing. If you hear that type of sound, but there’s no pain, it’s generally not necessary to seek out treatment.
TMJ Treatment Options
The first step is a proper diagnosis to determine what is occurring and how severe the condition is. That involves one of our dentists looking at the joint’s movements and feeling the jaw as you open and close your mouth. Many times, dental x-rays are completed of the teeth and jaw to get a good idea of the condition of the entire area. In some situations, a CT scan is ordered to provide more detailed images of the bones in the joint. This, or an MRI, may be done if other treatment options have not been successful or it’s hard to determine the function of the joints otherwise.
From there, your dentist can make a diagnosis and offer TMJ treatment options. There are generally several options available depending on the situation.
In some cases, medications are a first line of treatment. That includes anti-inflammatories and pain relievers that can help to reduce discomfort. Your dentist may prescribe medications that are more powerful than over-the-counter treatments.
Other medications include tricyclic antidepressants, which have been shown to be helpful in treating bruxism and providing some pain relief, as well as muscle relaxants. TMJ disorders may be created by the muscles in the area spasming.
Some therapies may help reduce pain related to TMJ disorders. This may include the use of oral splints or mouthguards. These are soft or firm devices that are placed into the mouth, over the teeth. They are designed to fit as comfortably as possible. Wearing them may help to reduce some of the stress and strain on the joint, especially in those with bruxism.
Physical therapy is another step that may be beneficial. The goal of this type of therapy is to improve the strength and stretch of the muscles of the jaw. To do this, your dentist may recommend the use of moist heat and ice or use of ultrasound technology.
When other treatments do not work, surgical procedures typically can offer a bit more help. There are several procedures that may fit, depending on your specific needs.
- Injections: This type of treatment involves the injection of corticosteroids into the joint. This is done over a period of time and can help to reduce the pain felt with chewing.
- Arthrocentesis: A minimally invasive procedure, arthrocentesis involves the insertion of small needles directly into the joint. This allows for fluid to be moved through the area to remove any debris and inflamed tissue from the area.
- Arthroscopy: This is a minimally invasive surgery in which a small, thin tube is placed into the joint space. It may help correct problems with the tissues and bones in the area.
- Modified condylotomy: In this procedure, surgery on the mandible is completed to correct any problems there.
- Open-joint surgery: A more invasive option, this procedure helps to repair structural programs in the joint that could be causing the pain.
Our dental team will work with you to determine the best treatment options. The most conservative option is typically the first step to ensure the least amount of discomfort possible.
Schedule an Appointment with Millennium Family Dental
Our team at Millennium Family Dental can help you with your TMJ discomfort. Let us provide a full diagnosis after an initial appointment and consultation. You may be able to see pain relief begin sooner than you thought possible.