TMJ stands for Temporomandibular Joint, which is the name for each joint (right and left) that connects your jaw to your skull. TMJ disorders are a family of problems related to the complex jaw joint. If you have had symptoms like pain or a “clicking” sound, you’ll be glad to know that these problems are more easily diagnosed and treated than they were in the past.
These symptoms occur when the joints of the jaw and the chewing muscles (muscles of mastication) do not work together correctly. Since some types of TMJ problems can lead to more serious conditions, early detection and treatment are important.
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TMJ disorders develop for many reasons. You might clench or grind your teeth, tightening your jaw muscles and stressing your TM joint. Many times the problem is related to muscle pain. You may have a damaged jaw joint due to injury or disease.
Injuries and arthritis can damage the joint directly or stretch or tear the muscle ligaments.
As a result, the disk, which is made of cartilage and functions as the “cushion” of the jaw joint, can slip out of position. Whatever the cause, the results may include a misaligned bite, pain, clicking or grating noise when you open your mouth or trouble opening your mouth wide.
No one treatment can resolve TMJ disorders completely and treatment takes time to become effective. Our surgeons can help you have a healthier and more comfortable jaw.
Do You Have a TMJ Disorder?
- Are you aware of grinding or clenching your teeth?
- Do you wake up with sore, stiff muscles around your jaws?
- Do you have frequent headaches or neck aches?
- Does the pain get worse when you clench your teeth?
- Does stress make your clenching and pain worse?
- Does your jaw click, pop, grate, catch, or lock when you open your mouth?
- Is it difficult or painful to open your mouth, eat or yawn?
- Have you ever injured your neck, head or jaws?
- Have you had problems (such as arthritis) with other joints?
- Do you have teeth that no longer touch when you bite?
- Do your teeth meet differently from time to time?
- Is it hard to use your front teeth to bite or tear food?
- Are your teeth sensitive, loose, broken, or worn?
The more times you answered “yes,” the more likely it is that you have a TMJ disorder. Understanding TMJ disorders will also help you understand how they are treated.
What about bite correction or surgery?
If your TMJ disorder is related to problems with how your teeth fit together, you may need treatment such as orthodontics (with or without jaw reconstruction).
Surgical options such as arthrocentesis, arthroscopy, and open joint repair are sometimes needed but are reserved for severe cases only. Our surgeons do not consider TMJ surgery unless the jaw can’t open, is dislocated and nonreducible, or has severe degenerative disease.
There are various treatment options that our surgeons can utilize to improve the harmony and function of your jaw.
Once an evaluation confirms a diagnosis of TMJ disorder, together, we will determine the proper course of treatment. It is important to note that treatment always works best with a team approach of self-care along with professional care.
The initial goals are to relieve the muscle and joint pain. This is usually accomplished with a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, and/or muscle relaxant. Steroids can be injected directly into the joints to reduce pain and inflammation. Self-care treatments can often be effective as well and include:
- Resting your jaw
- Eating soft foods
- Applying ice and heat
- Exercising your jaw
Stress management techniques such as biofeedback or physical therapy may also be recommended, as well as a temporary, clear plastic appliance known as a splint. A splint or nightguard fits over your top or bottom teeth and helps keep your teeth apart, thereby relaxing the muscles and reducing pain. There are different types of appliances used for different purposes. A nightguard helps you stop clenching or grinding your teeth and reduces muscle tension at night and helps to protect the cartilage and joint surfaces.