The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects the jawbone to the skull on either side of the head. The joints work like hinges, sliding in and out of place as the mouth opens and closes. When all is well with the TMJ, most people don’t even notice their existence. They’re able to eat, speak and move their mouth without any trouble.
But sometimes, things can go wrong with the TMJ, leading to what’s known as TMJ disorder. A TMJ disorder can develop when the cartilage in the joint is damaged or when the shock-absorbing disk that separates the cartilage and the joint’s bones become worn out or misaligned.
A TMJ disorder is relatively common, even though the exact cause of the issue isn’t always clear. Some people develop a problem with their TMJ as a result of arthritis, while others develop problems after an injury to the jaw area. Having a history of clenching the jaw or grinding the teeth can make a person more likely to develop TMJ disorder. Stress might also contribute to problems with the TMJ.
No matter what the cause may be, multiple treatment options for TMJ disorder are available. Usually, a dentist will recommend starting with conservative treatments. More invasive options, including surgery, might be considered if conservative measures don’t work.
Think you may have TMJ disorder? Read on to learn more about the symptoms of the disorder and what your options are for getting relief.
Signs and Symptoms of TMJ Disorder
One of the primary signs of a problem with the TMJ is pain and discomfort in the area around the jaw. The pain might be on one or both sides of the jaw or it might be near the ears or in the neck and shoulder area. Often, the pain or discomfort will occur when a person chews or speaks.
Although pain is the most common symptom of TMJ disorder, there may be other signs that there’s a problem with your TMJ. You might hear a clicking noise or a pop when you open your mouth. Some people with TMJ disorder find that their jaw or mouth gets stuck or locked in an open position. Problems with the TMJ might also make it difficult for you to open your mouth wide.
Other signs and symptoms of TMJ disorder include:
- Swelling in the face
- Uncomfortable bite or a suddenly misaligned bite
- Feelings of fatigue in the face
To diagnose the issue, your dentist or doctor will evaluate your symptoms and examine your jaw to determine if you have TMJ disorder. They might also order X-rays or other imaging to get a closer look at the area. If they conclude that you have TMJ disorder, they might recommend a course of conservative treatments to help ease your discomfort.
Non-Surgical TMJ Disorder Treatment Options
Non-surgical treatment options for TMJ disorder range from methods you can try at home to therapies you can only use with the help of your dentist or doctor.
Home-based, non-surgical treatments for TMJ disorder can include using heat or cold to ease jaw discomfort. Heat or cold is often used along with stretching exercises to help build up the muscles in the jaw.
Your doctor or dentist might also recommend that you change your diet to ease stress or strain on the jaw. They might advise you to eat soft foods, such as mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs, and cooked vegetables or beans. They might also recommend that you cut your food into very small pieces to reduce the amount of chewing you need to do.
In some cases, pain-relieving medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin can help to relieve the discomfort caused by TMJ disorder. Your doctor might prescribe muscle relaxers or other medications if over-the-counter options don’t help.
Another non-surgical TMJ disorder treatment option is to wear a night guard or mouth splint. A splint or mouthguard can help to relieve the pressure you place on your teeth and jaw, which can help to ease any TMJ-related discomfort.
Surgical TMJ Disorder Treatments
Surgery is usually the last resort when it comes to treating TMJ disorder. The results of the surgery can’t be reversed and the recovery time can be lengthy depending on the type of procedure performed.
If your dentist or doctor is recommending surgery, it’s likely that your TMJ disorder hasn’t responded to any other treatments and that they believe that surgery is the best option to help provide relief.
Dr. John Paul Gallardo is a periodontal specialist in the Miami area who also helps patients with TMJ disorder. He can recommend options that are right for your needs. To schedule an appointment in Miami, FL, call 305-547-8687 today.