The Mysteries of TMJ: What is it and how is it treated?
TMJ refers to Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders, grouped conditions that together lead to lack of proper function and pain in the joint of your jaw and the muscles that control its movement. According to some estimates, TMJ affects over 10 million Americans. If you have jaw pain, consult an oral professional for the most accurate diagnosis as most jaw pain does not signify TMJ and is temporary or needs only minor treatment.
What are TMJ disorders?
Generally, scientists group them into three categories:
1. Myofascial pain - This is the discomfort or pain in the musculature of the jaw.
2. Internal derangement of the joint - This can be a condyle injury, a dislocated jaw, or a displaced disc.
3. Arthritis - This is an inflammatory joint disorder that may afflict the temporomandibular joint.
Any of these may occur together and can occur simultaneously with other health issues that exacerbate the disorders or mimic them, so consult with your doctor as well as an oral professional when getting a diagnosis.
So, what causes TMJ?
In many cases, no one knows what causes TMJ. Other times, it is associated with trauma to the jaw. Pain can occur when a disc erodes or becomes unaligned, after impact to the jaw, or from cartilage damage from arthritis. TMJ disorders most commonly occur in women ages 20 to 40, but they can occur in men or women of any age.
How do you know if you have TMJ disorders?
Common symptoms include:
- Stiffness of the jaw
- Locking jaw or limited movement
- Painful clicking or popping in the joint when opening and closing mouth
- Change in teeth alignment
Because TMJ can be difficult to diagnose, seek professional help. Make sure you give your doctor as much information about your pain as possible. After a physical exam, if necessary, he or she can get X-rays, a CT scan, or an MRI to reveal problems with bones and discs.
What are the Treatments for TMJ?
Treatments for TMJ vary widely based on a number of factors. They often begin with sedatives or pain medication and other self care practices, including icing and eating soft foods. Some nonpharmaceutical therapies include:
- Physical therapy—exercises to strengthen jaw, ultrasound, heat and ice
- Counseling—understanding factors that can increase pain
- Oral splints—a soft or firm bite guard over teeth
If these measures are not successful or your condition is severe, you should consult a trusted oral surgeon and consider:
- Arthrocentesis—a procedure to irrigate fluid through the joint to remove inflammatory byproducts
- Injections—corticosteroid or botulinum toxin injections can relieve pain more effectively than medication
- Surgery—correction of structural problems within the joint
The oral surgeon at Solace Oral Surgery are experts at diagnosing this painful condition. Contact us today to answer any questions.