Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders, commonly called “TMJ,” are a group of conditions that cause pain and dysfunction in the jaw joint and the muscles that control jaw movement.
What is Temporomandibular Joint Disorder?
Disorders of the jaw joint and chewing muscles can vary widely in type and degree of severity. Conditions fall into three main categories:
A person may have one or more of these conditions at the same time. Some people have other health problems that co-exist with temporomandibular joint disorders, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, sleep disturbances or fibromyalgia, a painful condition that affects muscles and other soft tissues throughout the body.
How jaw joint and muscle disorders progress is not clear. Symptoms worsen and ease over time, but what causes these changes is not known. Most people have relatively mild forms of the disorder. Their symptoms improve significantly, or disappear spontaneously, within weeks or months. For others, the condition causes long-term, persistent and debilitating pain.
What Are The Causes?
It is very difficult to determine the specific causes for tempromandibular joint disorder. Trauma to the jaw or temporomandibular joint plays a role in some Temporomandibular joint disorders. For many, symptoms seem to start without obvious reason. Some believe a bad bite or orthodontic braces can trigger Temporomandibular joint disorders.
There is no proof that clicking sounds in the jaw joint lead to serious problems. Jaw noises are quite common, and without pain or limited jaw movement they do not indicate a temporomandibular joint disorder or warrant treatment.
The roles of stress and tooth grinding is unclear as being a major causes of Temporomandibular joint disorders. Many individuals diagnosed with Temporomandibular joint disorders do not grind their teeth, and many long-time tooth grinders do not have painful joint symptoms.
Temporomandibular Joint Treatments
The relative uncertainty of the disorder’s cause makes it difficult to determine the best and most effective treatments for jaw joint and muscle disorders. Therefore, the more conservative treatments that do not invade the tissues of the face, jaw, or joint, or involve surgery are recommended. Even when TMJ disorders have become persistent, most patients still do not need aggressive types of treatment.
The most common jaw joint and muscle problems are temporary and simple treatment is usually all that is needed to relieve discomfort.
For many people with TMJ disorders, short-term use of over-the-counter pain medicines or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, may provide temporary relief from jaw discomfort. When necessary, your dentist or doctor can prescribe stronger pain or anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxants, or anti-depressants to help ease symptoms.
Non-Invasive – Temporomandibular Joint Therapy
Compression and Muscle Relaxation Therapy
Early therapy starts simply with resting the jaw, using warm compresses (ice packs at first if an injury is present), and pain medication. The dentist will show the patient how to perform gentle muscle stretching and relaxation exercises. Stress-reduction techniques may help you manage stress and relax your jaw along with the rest of your body.
Invasive – Temporomandibular Joint Therapy
A more invasive procedure can be performed in the doctor’s office or clinic under local anesthesia. This is carried out by inserting two needles in the temporomandibular joint to wash it out. One needle is connected to a syringe filled with a cleansing solution, and the fluid exits via the other syringe. This procedure can be done in the office. Most people find relief from the pain and return to almost normal. Sometimes, pain medication can be injected into the joint in a similar procedure.
Alternatively, a simple injection of cortisone medication can be very helpful in relieving inflammation and pain.
Surgical procedures, invade the tissues and are often irreversible, so should be avoided when possible. There have been no long-term clinical trials to study the safety and effectiveness of surgical treatments for TMJ disorders. Nor are there standards to identify people who would most likely benefit from surgery. If surgery is recommended, be sure to have the doctor explain the reason for the treatment, the risks involved, and other types of treatment that may be available.