TMJ, or temporomandibular joint dysfunction, is a jaw condition that can cause severe pain. According to a medical study published in the Journal of Pain in 2011, up to five percent of the United States population has TMJ.
This disorder severely impacts patients' quality of life, causing disruptions to eating, sleeping, and relaxing. Many patients look for relief from their dentists. Fortunately, effective treatments for TMJ exist. This article will explain the symptoms and causes of TMJ and recommend possible treatments.
Symptoms of TMJ
The joint involved in TMJ is called the temporomandibular joint. Like a sliding hinge, this joint connects the jaw to the skull.
When a person has TMJ, they may experience pain in their jaw when opening and closing their mouth, when they chew, and when they try to sleep.
They may suffer from pain in the face, ears, and shoulders. Their faces may swell on one or both sides. Patients' jaws may also lock, which makes it difficult to chew and eat. In some cases, the joint will make a clicking noise when it moves.
Patients could experience orthodontic changes in their dental bite. They may also have tooth pain. Ringing in the ears sometimes happens as well.
TMJ pain interferes with everyday life. It does not always respond to pain relief measures. The pain is sometimes one-sided, though it can occur on both sides.
Causes of TMJ
A variety of factors can cause the disorder:
- Jaw injuries
- Grinding or clenching teeth (bruxism)
- Improper dental bite
- Problems with the disc in the ball and socket joint
Without an exam by a doctor or dentist, diagnosing the condition may be difficult. Patients who self-diagnose and try to treat the pain rarely meet with success.
Available Treatments for TMJ
The following are treatments that dentists commonly use to treat the pain and underlying causes of this condition.
Luckily, dentists can usually treat TMJ with non-invasive methods. The most common method is creating a splint or bite plate the patient wears at night. The splint holds the mouth slightly open, so the patient can't grind or clench their teeth. This treatment is often enough to relieve pain and reverse the condition.
When TMJ comes from misaligned teeth, orthodontic treatment can solve the problem. The dentist may apply braces or refer you to an orthodontist.
Over-The-Counter and Prescription Pain Medications
Dentists recommend trying over-the-counter pain medications for TMJ. If your joint is particularly cramped, your dentist may prescribe muscle relaxers.
Home Remedies for TMJ
If your dentist has already treated you, but you experience lingering pain, here are some at-home methods to soothe the painful joint.
Moist Heat and Ice Routine
As with other conditions, moist heat and ice application soothe pain and swelling. Switching from moist heat to cold often brings good results. Apply an ice pack or a towel soaked in hot tap water to your jaw for 15-minute periods. Make sure to cover the ice pack with a dry towel.
Exercises and Relaxation Techniques
Dentists recommend stretching and relaxation exercises to help overcome jaw stiffness. Physical therapy may help in extreme cases.
Posture contributes to TMJ pain. Be sure to sit up straight when using a computer or to watch television. Holding your shoulders and back at an unnatural angle could increase tension and pain.
Surgery for TMJ
If the above methods fail, dentists recommend jaw surgery. Surgeons perform arthroscopy procedures in many cases. Arthroscopy involves passing a small camera and tools through tiny incisions.
Surgeons can see exactly why the patient experiences pain. They can remove inflamed tissue and encourage healing. Small incisions in front of the ear allow them to work on the TMJ muscles.
Arthroplasty, or a total joint replacement, is a more invasive surgery but could be indicated in severe cases.
Can TMJ Be Treated Permanently?
Yes, in many cases, dentists can reverse TMJ with proper treatment. If the above treatments don't work, your dentist may refer you for surgery.
While it is usually not permanent, TMJ pain impacts a patient's quality of life. Dentists do everything they can to reverse the condition and restore full function in the jaw.
If you are experiencing this issue, talk to your dentist immediately about your symptoms and discuss treatment options. The earlier they intervene, the more likely the pain will resolve.