TMJ refers to the temporomandibular joint, which is the bone structure, muscles and connective tissues that surround the jaw and control chewing. When patients experience disorders of this joint, they are said to have a temporomandibular joint disorder or TMD. Symptoms of TMD include pain and tenderness near the jaw, as well as popping or clicking in the joint when speaking or chewing. There are many ways of treating TMJ disorders, ranging from non-invasive therapy and bite splints to injections or surgery. Left untreated, however, TMJ disorders can lead to headaches, muscle pain, malocclusion and tooth damage from grinding or clenching.
that TMD alone is not a disorder, but instead a collection of disorders that affect the temporomandibular joint? It is the second most common pain-causing musculoskeletal condition in the U.S. according to the U.S. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, as many as 12 percent of Americans may suffer from some type of TMD, with women twice as likely to be affected than men. But despite the prevalence and wide availability of treatment, only one out every three people with TMD fails to seek treatment.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know if TMJ treatment is right for me?
You will first need to be formally examined and diagnosed with TMJ disorder. Your dentist will evaluate the extent of the condition and determine what course of treatment is best for you. Usually, the initial approach involves conservative treatments, such as self-care, physical therapy and bite guards. Medications may also be used to relax the jaw or relieve pain. Patients who do not respond to conservative treatments may be considered for surgery or joint injections.
What are some of the causes of TMJ/TMD?
- Malocclusion – the abnormal positioning of the upper and lower teeth when the jaw is closed (bite)
- Clenching and/or grinding the teeth (usually occurring during sleep) caused by stress
- Trauma to the jaw area or, specifically, to the temporomandibular joint (jaw joint) itself
- Arthritis within the jaw joint
Is surgery the only option For this disorder?
- No! There are many treatments to pursue before surgical procedures are considered. For instance, if the condition is thought to be stress-related, the simplest solution is the temporary usage of over-the-counter pain relievers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), muscle relaxants and ice-pack therapy for immediate relief. At the same time, you can work on lifestyle changes to eliminate the stress. Of course, many other options are available to treat non-stress-related TMJ, so open communication with Dr. Hale is crucial.
What are the most prevalent symptoms of TMJ?
According to one study, the most frequent complaints and the approximate percentage of their occurrences were:
- Headaches (including migraines) – 76%
- Ear problems (including tinnitus [ringing in the ears], clogged or “muffled” ears, otalgia and dizziness – 76%
- Pain, clicking and/or popping sounds, limited ability to open temporomandibular joint – 72%
- Pain in throat (44%), face (45%), teeth (51%), neck (50%), back (41%) and behind eyes (38%)
What should I expect if I undergo treatment for TMJ
TMJ treatment varies from patient to patient, so your experience may be very different than someone else’s. You’ll probably be asked to adopt certain lifestyle changes to help facilitate rehabilitation in your jaw. For example, you may be asked to avoid sudden jaw movements, such as yelling or yawning. You may also need to begin sleeping on your back and take steps to reduce your stress levels.
Will I need to follow any special post-care instructions while being treated for TMJ?
Your post-treatment care instructions will vary according to the type of treatment you receive. If you undergo an aggressive treatment, such as surgery, you may be temporarily subject to an all-liquid diet. You’ll also need to apply ice to the face to minimize swelling and also keep the surgical site clean and dry.