Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorder
Commonly referred to as TMJ, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) is a condition which develops when joints on either side of the jaw become inflamed or injured. Individuals with TMD typically experience pain in their jaw and other areas of their face. This condition can also cause the joints to click or pop and is often connected to bruxism, or teeth grinding. If your dentist diagnoses you with TMJ disorder, there are a variety of treatment options available, ranging from customized oral appliances to surgical correction. The optimal treatment for you will depend on the severity of your condition, your budget, and other factors.
Understanding TMJ Disorder
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint located in front of the ear on either side of the head. While the structure is small, it is one of the most complex joints in the body and can move front to back, up and down, and side to side. Your TMJs allow you to eat, talk, yawn, and perform many other daily activities. The TMJ is a ball-and-socket joint consisting largely of three parts:
- The ball, or the condyle
- The socket, known as the glenoid fossa
- A small, fibrous disc between the two structures
TMD refers to a group of conditions which affect the TMJ and the jaw, as well as the surrounding muscles. TMD can involve issues with jaw movement as well as pain in and around the jaw joints.
- Difficulty chewing
- Sore muscles in the neck or shoulders
- Tenderness in the face
- Clicking or popping in the jaw
- A grating sensation in the jaw
- Pain in the temples
- Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears
TMJ disorder can cause lockjaw, a condition which prevents you from opening or closing your mouth fully. Some patients also experience swelling on the side of their face near the TMJs.
What Causes TMD?
The causes of TMJ disorder are not fully understood. However, there are some conditions which are commonly associated with TMJ, such as:
- Arthritis, especially chronic inflammatory arthritis
- Trauma to the jaw joint
- Chronic clenching or teeth grinding
- Poor posture
- Misalignment of the bite
- Connective tissue diseases
Excessive gum chewing may also increase your risk. According to some studies, women are more likely to develop TMJ disorder than men.
Effects of TMJ Disorder
Many patients are able to eliminate their TMJ symptoms with simple self-care practices. However, in some cases, issues with the joints can cause prolonged and persistent pain and jaw dysfunction which can affect your quality of life. For most cases of TMD, conservative treatment options are available to minimize symptoms and provide necessary relief. If you believe you have TMD, consult your dentist. They can perform an evaluation of your oral health and determine if you need treatment.
There are a variety of liestyle changes, non-surgical treatments, and surgical options available for patients with TMJ disorder.
Treating TMD generally consists of three stages. First, your dentist needs to diagnose the cause of the dysfunction. Then, they will develop a treatment plan to correct the cause. Finally, you may need treatment to correct resulting damage caused by the condition, such as dental crowns. There are a variety of lifestyle changes, non-surgical treatments, and surgical options available for patients.
Lifestyle Changes Can Help
Practicing effective self-care techniques at home can help many patients manage or even eliminate their TMJ symptoms. Some recommendations include:
- Taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications
- Using moist heat or ice packs
- Eating soft foods
- Avoiding extreme jaw movements, such as yawning
- Stop chewing gum
- Practicing good posture
Stress management and relaxation techniques can also help with TMJ disorder, especially if your condition is related to clenching or grinding your teeth.
Often, the first methods recommended by dentists for TMD are conservative, reversible, non-surgical treatments. Effective treatment options include:
- Night guards
- Orthodontics, such as braces or Invisalign®
- Neuromuscular treatment
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
- Ultrasound therapy
- Low-level laser therapy
- Radio wave therapy
- Jaw exercises
- Bite therapy
- BOTOX® injections
Your doctor may also recommend medications to address your TMJ issues, such as muscle relaxants.
If non-surgical methods are not sufficient to improve your condition, your dentist may recommend surgery. Surgical options include:
- Arthrocentesis: When TMJ disorder is caused by a misplaced disc or inflammatory debris, this conservative surgery can remove damaged tissue and reduce inflammation.
- Arthroscopy: During this minimally invasive procedure, your surgeon can remove scar tissue and smooth the jawbone.
- Arthroplasty: Since this reconstructive procedure is considered open surgery, it is more involved and requires several weeks of recovery. However, it can address a variety of causes.
- Total Joint Replacement: This surgery is the final resort when all other treatments have failed and involves the complete replacement of the joint.
Though jaw surgery obviously involves more downtime than non-surgical options, it may be best for some patients whose quality of life is affected by chronic TMD.
TMD treatment cost varies widely. In general, non-surgical treatment costs less than surgery. A splint or mouth guard, for example, typically costs about $200. However, simple surgical procedures, such as arthrocentesis, may cost as little as $300.
Effective treatment for TMJ disorder can substantially improve your quality of life.
In contrast, more complex treatment plans can involve multiple procedures and cost upwards of several thousand dollars. It is important to keep in mind that treating TMJ can substantially improve your quality of life. Without proper care, pain and other symptoms can continue to worsen. Patients with TMD may suffer from severe dental erosion, sleep disruption, and other serious concerns. Insurance typically covers at least a portion of the treatment cost and many practices also accept financing.
Can I Address Symptoms on My Own?
Many of the same lifestyle changes recommended for TMJ disorder can help prevent the condition from occurring or returning. Eating soft foods, avoiding chewing gum and other aggravations, and consistently maintaining proper posture can all take pressure off of your TMJs. In addition, practicing stress reduction and relaxation techniques can reduce your risk for TMD. If you have been diagnosed in the past, be sure to follow your dentist’s instructions carefully and wear any prescribed splints or mouth guards to prevent your TMD from returning.
Find Relief from Pain and Other Symptoms
The only way to properly diagnose TMJ disorder is meeting with a dentist. During a consultation, the doctor can evaluate your symptoms and also answer common questions. Schedule an appointment today to learn more.
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