Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome (TMJ) (cont.)

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What are TMJ syndrome symptoms and signs?

The main symptom of TMJ syndrome is pain in the jaw joint. This joint is located just in front of the ear, and pain associated with TMJ syndrome may involve the face, eye, forehead, ear, or neck. Signs and symptoms of TMJ syndrome include the following:

  • Pain in the jaw, especially at the area of the joint
  • Popping/clicking of the jaw
  • Ear pain or sounds of cracking in the ears
  • Ringing or popping sounds in the ears (tinnitus) or a sense of fullness in the ears
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Tight, stiff, or sore jaw or neck muscles
  • Facial pain, cheek pain, or chin numbness or tingling
  • Pain at the base of the tongue
  • Pain, swelling, or a lump in the temple area
  • Shoulder pain
  • Locking or dislocation of the jaw (usually after widely yawning), referred to as lockjaw
  • Dizziness or vertigo

How is TMJ syndrome diagnosed?

A doctor will diagnose TMJ syndrome by taking the patient's medical history and doing a physical exam to find the cause of the symptoms. There is no specific test to diagnose TMJ syndrome. A doctor may send the patient to an oral and maxillofacial specialist, an otolaryngologist (also called an ear, nose, and throat doctor or ENT specialist), or a dentist specializing in jaw disorders to confirm the diagnosis. Sometimes an MRI of the temporomandibular joint may be ordered to detect damage to the cartilage of the jaw joint and to rule out other medical problems.

A condition that may have some similar symptoms to TMJ syndrome is trigeminal neuralgia. The trigeminal nerve supplies nerve impulses to the temporomandibular joint, and when irritated, it can also cause facial pain. Other causes of face or neck pain include swollen lymph nodes (swollen glands), giant cell arteritis, salivary gland disease, sore throat, ill-fitting dentures, or dental braces.

What is the treatment for TMJ syndrome? Are there any home remedies that provide TMJ pain relief?

Many symptoms of TMJ syndrome can respond well to home remedies or stress reduction and relaxation techniques. The following home remedies may provide some relief:

  • Ice or cold packs to the area of the joint
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve)
  • Eating soft foods and avoiding chewing gum
  • Massage or gentle self-stretching of the jaw and neck muscles (a doctor or physical therapist can recommend appropriate stretches)
  • Relaxation techniques and stress reduction

When home remedies are not effective, medical treatment options may be necessary. These include the following:

  • Dental splint (occlusal splint or stabilization splint or bite guard), which is a dental appliance placed in the mouth that keeps the teeth in alignment and prevents tooth grinding. This resembles a mouth guard and is usually prescribed and fitted by a jaw specialist.
  • Botox may be used to relax the muscles of the jaw. However, this is not currently an FDA-approved treatment for TMJ syndrome.
  • Physical therapy with jaw exercises can strengthen muscles, improve flexibility, and range of motion.
  • In states where medical marijuana is legal, it may be prescribed to help with severe TMJ pain.
  • In severe cases, surgery on the jaw or dental surgery may be necessary.
    • TMJ arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure usually done in an outpatient setting. Recovery time for this procedure is about a week.
    • Sometimes a total joint replacement is needed. This generally requires a stay in the hospital for several days, and recovery time is four to six weeks.
  • Prescription-strength pain medicines, muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatory medications, or steroids may be necessary.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/2/2015

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TMJ - Symptoms Question: Besides pain, what TMJ symptoms do you experience?
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