TMJ, or temporomandibular joint syndrome, is a painful feeling inside the jaw triggered by an array of medical problems. The temporomandibular joint is the joint connecting the skull area directly in front of the ear to the lower jaw. Some of the muscles used to chew attach to the lower jaw. When there are problems involving this area, it causes TMJ pain in the head and neck, face, ears, jaw and much more. Often, the jaw muscles lock resulting in biting problems or popping and clicking sounds when biting. TMJ can cause clenching and grinding of teeth which often results in severe jaw pain.
What causes TMJ?
TMJ syndrome can be caused by bad oral habits, everyday wear and tear, certain diseases and trauma. Some of the trauma can be as simple as clenching the jaw or grinding teeth. Consequently, the muscles inside the mouth become inflamed around the joint. Additionally, trauma such as suffering impact to the jaw due to an automobile accident could cause damage due to breaks in the jawbone or jaw dislocation. Using ice packs to alleviate pain due to impact and accidents is often helpful as well as practicing some jaw relaxation techniques. Other causes of TMJ can include cancer, infections inside the joint, and deformities in the bone.
What are the Risk Factors for TMJ?
Generally, the risk is higher for women to develop TMJ, and those between the ages of 18 and 44 are especially susceptible. Childbearing years tend to hold additional risk of women developing TMJ. Past studies indicate that those who are sensitive to pain stimuli are at higher risk of acquiring TMJ. Genetics have also been shown to trigger TMJ. Genes associated with inflammation, stress, and psychological well-being can encourage TMJ syndrome. In addition, people suffering with prolonged pain such as headaches or back pain are more subject to TMJ syndrome.
How is TMJ Treated?
Some of the symptoms of TMJ can be treated successfully at home by practicing relaxing techniques and by reducing stress. At home, the following TMJ treatments may offer relief:
- Applying ice packs to the joint. Icing is very effective for reducing swelling and pain in jaw muscles.
- Taking anti-inflammatory medications or pain relievers.
- Drinking liquids and eating soft food.
- Eliminate chewing gum.
- Massaging the jaw and neck area or going to physical therapy.
- Practice reducing stress and relaxation skills.
If remedies attempted at home are unsuccessful, professional medical treatment is the next option. Some treatments may not cure the TMJ, but they will hopefully offer longer-term relief from painful symptoms.
- Use of a professional dental splint or mouth guard to stop teeth grinding. This also helps the jaw remain aligned properly. These are similar to mouth guards, but they are fitted by a specialist and require a prescription.
- Rigorous physical therapy routine to exercise the jaw. The plan is for improving range of motion and flexibility as well as making the muscles in the jaw stronger.
- Oftentimes, cognitive biobehavioral treatments are attempted to lessen pain.
- Acupuncture for trigger points can relieve pain.
- In extreme cases of TMJ, dental or jaw surgery may be needed. This would include procedures such as arthroscopy or arthrocentesis on an outpatient basis. Recovering from these procedures takes approximately one week. If complete replacement of the joint is required, the surgical procedure would be performed in a hospital setting and recovery is about six weeks.
- Muscle relaxers, sleep medications and steroid injections are often used as well.
- In rare cases, a medical professional might try Botox to help relax the jaw muscles. Currently, this is not FDA approved as a treatment plan for TMJ.
Experiencing occasional mild pain in the chewing muscles and jaw is sometimes normal. There is no major reason for concern unless the pain becomes severe and prolonged. When this happens, it is time to see a doctor. If you experience problems swallowing food, or if the jaw continues to be painful when opening and closing your mouth, it is time to seek professional help. It is always more effective if treatment begins at the onset of signs and symptoms of TMJ.
Additionally, you should always go to the emergency room if your jaw remains locked in an open or closed position. The emergency room doctor can manually place the jaw back into position. This is not something to attempt at home. If the jaw is closed and in a locked position, sedation is usually necessary. The doctor will then manually manipulate the mouth open.
TMJ syndrome prognosis is normally positive. Most people effectively manage their care at home without much discomfort.
There are some complications from suffering from TMJ for longer periods of time such as continual headaches and some face pain. When cases are severe, an extended treatment plan should be put into place with a medical professional.
Dr. Cory Fortson, DDS began his educational journey by earning a BS in Nutritional Science from Michigan State University. He is a 2014 graduate of The University of Detroit Dental School and a third generation dentist who is proud to provide excellent dental care to the Lathrup Village community.
With his dedication to excellence and continued growth, Dr. Fortson has completed extensive continuing education courses in orthodontics (braces and Invisalign), endodontics (root canal therapy), and cosmetic dentistry. He always strives to create a comfortable atmosphere for his patients while restoring their smiles. Dr. Fortson’s goal is to take the stress out of dental visits by meeting all his patients’ dental needs while offering the most up to date painless treatment options to deliver a beautiful smile.