TMJ Disorders
Many minor temporomandibular joint disorders can often be treated at home without the need for medical attention.

The signs of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, especially when mild, might go away without treatment. If your symptoms do not go away, your doctor might suggest a few treatments, frequently more than one to be carried out concurrently.

What is the temporomandibular joint?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) consists of two joints that connect your lower jaw to your skull. These joints move in front of each ear. They consist of the temporal bone (the side and base of the skull) and the lower jaw (mandible).

The TMJs are some of the body's most complicated joints. These joints and a multitude of muscles allow the mandible to move forward, backward, and side to side.

Smooth muscle movements are possible when the mandible (jawbone) and the joints are properly positioned. They include chewing, talking, yawning, and swallowing.

When specific parts (such as muscles, ligaments, articular disc jawbone, or temporal bone) are out of alignment, they do not move well together, which could result in a lot of problems.

What are TMJ disorders?

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders (TMDs) are conditions that affect the jaw muscles, TMJs, and nerves that control facial discomfort. TMD could be caused by any issue that stops the intricate network of muscles, bones, and joints from operating in harmony.

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, TMD is categorized as:

  • Myofascial pain: TMD most frequently manifests in this way. It causes discomfort or soreness in the muscles that control jaw, neck, and shoulder functions and the fascia (the connective tissue that covers muscles).
  • Internal derangement of the joint: Indicates a misaligned jaw or displaced disc. The cartilage cushion that lies between the jaw bone's head and the skull is called the articular disc. Alternatively, it could indicate condyle (the jaw bone's rounded end meets the temporal skull bone) damage.
  • Degenerative joint disease: The jaw joint may experience rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.

What causes TMJ disorders?

The exact cause of this condition may not always be known.

The most common causes of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders (TMDs) include:

  • Too much stress on jaw joints and muscles that regulate eating, swallowing, and speaking might occasionally be the primary reason. Bruxism could be the cause of this strain. Bruxism is the repeated act of clenching or grinding the teeth.
  • May result from injury to the neck, head, or jaw.
  • A bad bite or orthodontic braces.
  • TMJ pain can be brought on by arthritis and disc displacement in the jaw joint.
  • Other times, the pain from another unpleasant medical condition, such as fibromyalgia or irritable bowel syndrome, may coexist with or exacerbate the discomfort from TMD.
  • Significantly influenced by poor posture. For instance, keeping your head forward all day while using a computer puts strain on your face and neck muscles.

A recent National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research study reported that clinical, psychosocial, sensory, genetic, and neurological system components might increase a person's chance of developing chronic TMD.

SLIDESHOW

Pain Management: Surprising Causes of Pain See Slideshow

What are the symptoms of TMJ disorders?

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders (TMDs) are more common in people in their 20s and 40s and tend to affect women more than men.

The following are some of the most typical TMD symptoms:

  • Biting or chewing difficulty or discomfort
  • Jaw pain or discomfort (often most common in the morning or late afternoon)
  • Headaches
  • A ringing or aching in the ears (not caused by an infection of the inner ear canal)
  • Clenching or grinding of the teeth
  • Clicking or popping of the jaw
  • Numbness or tingling feeling in the fingers
  • Dizziness
  • Limited jaw motions
  • A change in the way the upper and lower teeth fit together
  • Facial pain
  • Swelling around TMJ

How are TMJ disorders treated?

Treatment options include simple self-care methods, conservative therapy, injections, and open surgery. Medical specialists generally agree that conservative, nonsurgical therapy should be tried first. Surgery should only be utilized as a last option.

Self-care

Many minor temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders (TMDs) can frequently be treated at home without the need for further medical attention.

Here are some recommendations that could ease TMD discomfort:

  • Eat soft foods to reduce joint inflammation
  • Learn to stretch, relax, or massage your jaw's surrounding muscles (for this, you can get assistance from your doctor, dentist, or physical therapist)
  • Avoid doing things, such as yawning, humming, and chewing gum, which may aggravate your symptoms
  • Try applying cold or moist heat to your face
  • Acquire stress-relieving skills

Medications

Therapies

  • Mouth guards or oral splints (occlusal appliances). Wearing a hard or soft device implanted over their teeth will help people with jaw pain, but the reasons why these devices are helpful are not fully understood.
  • Physical therapy could involve exercises to stretch and strengthen jaw muscles, ultrasound, moist heat, and ice.
  • Counseling can help you avoid the situations and actions that may make your pain worse. Examples include biting your fingernails, clenching, or grinding your teeth, and leaning on your chin.

Surgical or other procedures

  • Arthrocentesis: Arthrocentesis is a minimally invasive treatment in which tiny needles are inserted into the joint to allow fluid to be irrigated through the joint to flush out debris and inflammatory byproducts.
  • TMJ arthroscopy: In some instances, arthroscopic surgery can be just as successful as open-joint surgery to treat different forms of TMJ issues. Small surgical instruments are used to do the procedure after an arthroscope is introduced through a small, thin tube (cannula) that has been inserted into the joint space. Compared to open-joint surgery, TMJ arthroscopy is less dangerous and less likely to cause complications, but it has certain drawbacks.
  • Modified condylotomy: Involves surgery on the mandible rather than the joint, indirectly treating the TMJ.
  • Open-joint surgery: Also called arthrotomy and is used to repair or replace the joint if your jaw pain does not go away after trying more conservative therapies, and there is a structural issue in the joint. The risks associated with open-joint surgery are higher, so they are carefully considered after weighing the benefits and limitations.

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Medically Reviewed on 11/11/2022
References
Image Source: iStock image

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15066-temporomandibular-disorders-tmd-overview#management-and-treatment

TMJ disorders. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/diseases-conditions/tmj-disorders

Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD). https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/temporomandibular-disorder-tmd

TMJ Disorders. https://www.sparrow.org/departments-conditions/conditions/tmj-disorders