Jaw pain, frequent headaches on waking, and clicking and locking sensations when chewing are all telltale signs of TMJ disorder. This can be caused by trauma, arthritis, an improper bite, or wear and tear. And while relatively common, the treatment largely depends on your own experiences with the disorder. In this blog, we will discuss TMJ disorder, possible causes, and what treatment options remain available to you.
What is the TMJ joint?
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects your lower jaw (mandible) to your skull; it acts like a sliding hinge. You have one joint on each side of your jaw.
What is TMJ disorder?
A lot of things can cause dysfunction of the TMJ- genetics, arthritis, jaw injury, or a combination of factors. TMJ disorders can cause inflammation and pain in the muscles and ligaments around the jaw joints and the muscles that control jaw movement. Sometimes, people with jaw pain also have a habit of grinding their teeth (bruxism).
Symptoms of TMJ Disorders
- Jaw pain or tenderness
- Difficulty chewing
- Clicking and locking the jaw joint
- Facial pain/ pain in and around the ear
Causes of TMJ Disorder
It's difficult to determine the exact cause of TMJ for a person. But usually, this can happen because of:
- Bruxism (chronic teeth grinding)
- Jaw injury
- Missing or poorly aligned teeth
- Connective tissue disease
TMJ Disorder: Your Treatment Options
Because it's difficult to figure out the cause of TMJ, and since everyone experiences it differently, it is important to customize treatment to your needs for continued relief. Usually, for patients with moderate to severe TMJ disorder symptoms, there are 4 treatment options available:
While it's true that Botox is most commonly used to fix wrinkles, it is also a good neuromuscular agent and is great at relaxing overactive jaw muscles, effectively reducing tension in the jaw. In as few as three 10-30 minute injections spread over several months, it blocks the nerve signals that cause your facial muscles to over-contract. It can help treat jaw tension, teeth grinding headaches, and lockjaw from severe stress. This method can be effective when others aren't working. As a side effect, this can also cause a fixed smile for 6-8 weeks.
Arthroscopy is also called keyhole surgery. By inserting a tiny camera through small incisions, it is possible to see inside the jaw joint in real-time. This can help to see if there's a problem like a torn cartilage or if there's damage to the surface of the joint. Using this minimally-invasive procedure, the information can be used to determine the best course of treatment or even perform procedures to relieve symptoms and improve jaw function. For example, the surgeon may treat some problems using surgical instruments, or use arthrocentesis to wash out the joint with one or two needles. An arthroscopy can take up to 2 hours if surgery will be involved.
Often one of the first procedures recommended, with arthrocentesis, the idea is to inject some special solutions into your jaw joint near your ear to wash out the jaw joint, removing debris and inflammatory byproducts. The patient is put under local anesthesia and IV sedation or general anesthesia, and two hypodermic needles are placed into the joint to flush it with a sterile saline solution, removing tissue breakdown products and reducing inflammation. Like arthroscopy, arthrocentesis is also a minimally-invasive treatment, and it helps relieve painful symptoms with a very high success rate.
4. Jaw Surgery
The above three options do well in most cases. But when all else fails, there is still the option of surgery to remove loose bodies irritating the jaw joints or restore/replace damaged jaw joints. Other than arthroscopy, there is the option of arthroplasty, which is also called total joint replacement. This procedure is moderately invasive. In this, an incision is made and the damaged TMJ is removed. Then, an artificial TMJ made of titanium and high-density plastic is placed in (the whole ball-and-socket of the TMJ is replaced). During the surgery, any bony growths, diseased bone, or excess tissue can be removed.
Other Treatment Options
There are several other surgical and nonsurgical options available for TMJ treatment:
- Medication (ex- pain relievers and anti-inflammatories)
- Muscle relaxants
- Physical therapy
- Oral splints or mouth guards
- Relaxation techniques
Depending on the type and severity of your symptoms, after a thorough evaluation of your symptoms, jaws, and bite balance, using X-rays, digital scans, and arthroscopy are a few ways to navigate the decision regarding the correct treatment path for you. But regardless of the nuances, it is important to get any new symptoms checked out because even though the pain may be manageable for now, it can get worse with time.