The temporomandibular joint plays an integral role in the motion of the jaw and mouth. Located on each side of the mouth, each joint acts as a sort of “hinge” that allows you to open and close your mouth, making it possible to speak, chew, and swallow. Together with facial muscles and ligaments, the temporomandibular joints control the mandible, or lower jaw, allowing it to move forward, backward, and side to side.
TMJ is used as an abbreviation for disorders of the temporomandibular joint. TMJ affects the muscles and ligaments that make up the temporomandibular joint and cause pain, tenderness, and stiffness in the area. They are caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, injury, and stress levels. In more extreme cases, TMJ disorder can cause so much pain and stiffness that it can be difficult to open or shut the jaw.
TMJ Signs and Symptoms
TMJ disorders can cause symptoms such as:
- Pain, tenderness, and stiffness of the jaw
- Pain in one or both temporomandibular joints
- A “clicking” or “grating” sound when you chew or open your mouth
- Pain or aches in or around the ear
- Difficulty or pain while chewing
- Facial pain or tenderness
- Recurring headaches
- Joint “locks” up, making it hard to open or close your mouth
Common Causes of TMJ
The area that controls the movement of the jaw muscles contains a disk of cartilage between the ball and socket of the temporomandibular joint. If that disk gets damaged for any reason, such as arthritis or an injury to the jaw, TMJ disorder may develop. An uneven bite or misaligned jaw can also cause the disk to get damaged or misaligned, leading to TMJ pain. Long-term teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, is another common cause of TMJ. A diet with many hard or hard-to-chew foods, such as crunchy potato chips or chewy candy bars, may also play a role in causing TMJ pain. Stress has also been linked to both bruxism and TMJ. The causes behind TMJ disorders are not always apparent, but the pain will continue to worsen if left untreated.
If you’re experiencing symptoms that indicate you may have TMJ, you should see your doctor or dentist, such as Dr. Tomazin, as soon as you can. Your dentist will check your jaw and teeth by observing the motion of your mouth as you open and shut your jaw and also pressing on specific areas to check for tenderness or pain. Your dentist will also listen for any audible “clicking” or grinding. You may need to get X-rays or other scans if further examination is needed. Once diagnosed, you can begin to discuss what treatment options are available.
Your dentist will help you develop a plan to treat your TMJ upon diagnosis. Some treatments for TMJ include:
- Change in diet
- Physical exercises
- Pain relief remedies
- A night guard to decrease bruxism
Know Your Treatment Options
The causes of TMJ disorder can vary from patient to patient. Factors such as diet, jaw placement, previous trauma or injury to the area can all play a role, along with other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Bruxism, or teeth grinding, also causes TMJ pain.
Dentists, such as Dr. Tomazin, work closely with their patients to accurately diagnose TMJ and come up with a treatment plan that works to relieve the effects of this often painful disorder. A good treatment plan will help to decrease the pain, tenderness, and stiffness associated with TMJ and can even help prevent what causes the disorder in the first place. A combination of treatments may be the best way to help alleviate your symptoms.
Treating TMJ with Medicine
Your dentist may need to prescribe certain medications to help deal with the pain and other symptoms related to TMJ. Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, may be used for a limited time to help decrease pain. Some dentists may prescribe certain types of antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, as in low doses they can be used to decrease bruxism. If needed, a dentist may also prescribe muscle relaxants, which help ease tension and pain from muscle spasms related to TMJ.
There are a few different therapies that can be used to address TMJ and relieve symptoms. Physical therapy, such as exercises to help strengthen and stretch your jaw and mouth muscles, can be used to provide relief. Some dentists also use ultrasound treatments to help relax muscles and a heat or ice pack for pain. If there is bruxism, the use of a mouth guard or splint will also help decrease nighttime grinding and relieve pain and discomfort. Mouth guards can be bought at a local drug store, but a mouth guard or splint customized to fit your bite is the best option. Dr. Tomazin uses a special mold to craft a mouth guard or splint tailored to your needs.
Some dentists recommend some simple lifestyle changes that can also help ease the symptoms of TMJ. Some home remedies include:
- Eating soft foods
- Cutting food into smaller pieces
- Avoiding sticky, chewy, or crunchy food
- Avoid chewing gum and biting nails
- Using heat or ice packs
- Relaxation or meditation techniques to loosen tense jaw muscles
Surgery or Other Procedures
In more severe cases, or if other treatments haven’t helped, surgery or other less invasive procedures may be recommended.
This is a minimally invasive procedure where a dentist injects fluid to irrigate the temporomandibular joint and remove debris, helping decrease inflammation.
Some TMJ patients benefit from cortisone injections into the joint to relieve symptoms. In other cases, botulinum toxin type A (commonly known as BOTOX®) injections into the jaw can help relax the muscles associated with TMJ pain.
The use of tiny needles inserted into certain points of the face and body may help alleviate some of the pain and muscle stiffness from TMJ.
In some cases, TMJ can be alleviated by adjusting or reshaping some of the teeth. This can help fix an uneven bite that often leads to some of the worst symptoms. Orthodontic treatments, such as tooth aligners or a retainer, may also be recommended.
This type of surgery is best used if TMJ has caused “locking” or difficulty in moving the jaw, as it is done on the mandible to correct movement issues.
This type of surgery will help replace or repair the temporomandibular joint and is typically only used if there is a structural issue with the joint itself. This should only be considered if other TMJ treatment options have been tried and haven’t worked.
Dr. Tomazin will help you develop a treatment plan that best addresses your TMJ symptoms to find you long-lasting relief. Call our offices at 951-686-3666 to schedule a consultation soon.