TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders are a family of problems related to your complex jaw joint. If you have had symptoms like TMJ 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. TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint, which is the name for each joint (right and left) that connects your jaw to your skull. Since some types of TMJ problems can lead to more serious conditions, early detection and TMJ treatment are important.
TMJ disorders develop for many reasons. You might clench or grind your teeth, tightening your jaw muscles and stressing your TM joint. 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.
The more times you answered "yes", the more likely it is that you have a TMJ disorder. Understanding TMJ pain will also help you understand how they are treated.
There are various TMJ pain treatment options available. Most of these are non-surgical. Therefore, our jaw surgeons are not typically involved in the initial diagnosis of your temporomandibular disorder. Instead, they are consulted when TMJ specialists feel that surgical intervention may be warranted.
The initial goals of your TMJ specialist are to relieve muscle spasms and joint pain. This is usually accomplished with a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, or muscle relaxant. Steroids can be injected directly into the joints to reduce pain and inflammation. Self-care TMJ treatments can often be effective as well and include:
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 TMJ 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. An anterior positioning appliance moves your jaw forward, relieves pressure on parts of your jaw, and aids in disk repositioning. It may be worn 24 hours/day to help your jaw heal. An orthotic stabilization appliance is worn 24 hours/day or just at night to move your jaw into the proper position. Appliances also help to protect from tooth wear.
If your TMJ disorder has caused problems with how your teeth fit together, you may need TMJ treatment such as bite adjustment (equilibration), orthodontics with or without jaw reconstruction, or restorative dental work. Surgical options such as arthrocentesis and open joint surgery are rare, but sometimes necessary. Our jaw surgeons do not consider TMJ surgery unless the jaw can’t open, is dislocated and non-reducible, or has severe degeneration.