Temporomandibular joint and muscle, or TMJ, disorders are estimated to affect millions across the U.S., according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NICDR). This means that approximately 5 to 12 percent of the population suffers recurrent or chronic facial pain and dysfunction in the jaw joint as a result of this condition.
But does TMJ always require treatment? And what are the treatment options for managing these potentially serious musculoskeletal disorders?
TMJ Disorders Don’t Always Cause Serious Problems
Fortunately for most TMJ sufferers, symptoms of these joint disorders are mild and temporary. TMJ often goes away on its own, with little or no treatment.
Patients with TMJ disorders may experience pain in the jaw joint and chewing muscles, as well as facial stiffness and difficulty moving or opening the jaw. Some also suffer painful popping or grating in the joint or notice a change in how their teeth fit together.
Conservative At-Home Treatments for TMJ Disorders
Some patients suffer more serious discomfort and pain as a result of TMJ. Also, TMJ disorders can return, occurring in cycles.
The NIDCR recommends that patients attempt conservative treatment measures first, when symptoms are significant enough to require treatment. In most cases, aggressive types of treatment will not be necessary.
Simple self-care practices can ease symptoms for many patients. These include eating softer foods, avoiding extreme jaw movements and reducing stress. Gentle jaw stretches and relaxation exercises can also help.
For short-term relief of pain and swelling, ice packs and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or over-the-counter pain medications can typically be used effectively. Oral surgeons strongly recommend that patients wear stabilization splints or bite guards as well to help alleviate symptoms and prevent further damage to the teeth and jaw.
Some patients can relieve symptoms through alternative medical treatments, including trigger point injections, acupuncture and biofeedback.
Surgical Treatments for TMJ Disorders
Unfortunately, conservative treatments don’t work well for everyone, and they can’t cure TMJ disorders. This approach to treatment addresses only the symptoms, and provides temporary relief at best. If symptoms persist or recur, surgical treatment may be the preferable approach.
Surgery is generally considered to be a last resort in treating TMJ. However, when other treatments fail to alleviate chronic pain and joint dysfunction in the jaw, a single surgical procedure can provide a permanent solution.
Three types of procedures are currently used to treat TMJ. Arthrocentesis surgery or arthroscopic surgery are generally considered first, as they are minimally invasive and can be performed in the oral surgeon’s office or at an outpatient surgery center.
For cases of TMJ that involve structural problems in the joint, arthroplasty surgery may be advised. This is an open-joint procedure, so it is usually performed under general anesthesia at a local hospital.
TMJ doesn’t always require advanced treatment, but the condition can be quite painful. The professionals at Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery of Utah understand the difficulties of jaw joint problems like TMJ disorders. Let us help relieve your symptoms — call our Salt Lake City office today to schedule a consultation.