TMJ is an acronym for the temperomandibular joint, which is the joint connecting the lower jaw (mandible) to the skull. TMJ disorder is a term that encompasses multiple conditions that can affect this joint. It can be acute or chronic in nature. The TMJ consists of many muscle attachments, nerves, veins, arteries, cartilage and surrounding bones. It is a complex joint with a wide range of motion and is normally capable of dealing with most stresses on a day-to-day basis.
Several facial muscles are attached to the jaws and the forces applied on the jaw act through the TMJ, which act as a fulcrum around which the whole jaw hinges. The TMJ is vulnerable to any disorder affecting the joints in any part of the body, including arthritis, dislocations, ankylosis, trauma, etc.
What are the common symptoms of TMJ disorder?
Pain in the muscles of the face that can radiate to the side of the face and neck. Swelling and pain is experienced near the joint, in front of the ear, around the eyes and side of the face and head. Pain is commonly experienced when chewing, talking and yawning.
Deviation of the jaw to one side when opening the mouth. You may also experience “lock-jaw.” With lock-jaw, the patient will complain of difficulty closing the mouth after opening.
Clicking or popping sound from the joints is heard while opening and closing the mouth.
Ear pain, ringing in the ears and loss of hearing.
Headache, nausea and dizziness
What are the common treatment options available to treat TMJ disorders?
Most treatment options available are conservative and involve medications and jaw exercises.
If the cause of pain is trauma or if the pan is acute in nature the first thing you can do is apply an ice-pack to the joint intermittently while allowing the jaw to rest.
Eat soft foods items that require little or no chewing. Avoid foods like hard candy, steak and raw carrots. Some patients are advised to eat hot soups or baby food for a few days until the pain subsides. Try eating food without opening your mouth too wide.
Anti-inflammatory medications and pain killers can be consumed to reduce the inflammation and pain. Skeletal-muscle relaxants help relax tight muscles. Anti-anxiety medications can help reduce stress that can aggravate TMJ pain.
Avoid resting your jaw on your hands while working or studying. Try to sleep on your back rather then your stomach. Maintain a good body posture while working.
Your Dallas dentist will advise jaw exercises to help stretch and relax your jaw muscles. You can do these exercises at home in front of a mirror. End the exercises by applying a moist cloth to the affected side of the face. Repeat the exercises 4-5 times daily.
An occlusal splint may be placed to establish a harmonious relationship between jaw muscles, teeth and TMJ. Splints will also help reduce teeth clenching and grinding which can exert unwanted pressure on the joint. Avoid over-the-counter mouth guards.
Orthodontic treatment may also be done to establish uniform occlusion. Replacement of lost teeth with properly designed dentures, replacing old dentures, replacing defective fillings, crowns and dental bridges can also help. Improperly designed dentures can also cause TMJ pain. Orthodontic treatment is used as an adjunct to occlusal splint therapy.
Corticosteroid injections into the TMJ can help reduce inflammation in chronic cases.
A TMJ wash, which comprises inserting two needles into the TMJ and washing out the joint with water or anesthetic solutions, has been found to be effective.
TMJ Surgery. Usually done as a last resort. Arthroscopy or open joint surgery can be done. The entire joint can be replaced with TMJ implants.
Other options include: Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), ultrasound therapy, etc.