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Common Treatment Options for TMJ

The jaw joints that connect the jaw to the skull are called the temporomandibular joints (TMJ). These joints can have a significant impact on your overall health. Problems with these joints, called TMJ disorders, can cause a range of symptoms, from clicking and popping when you open your jaw to pain and migraines.

Patients who suffer symptoms of TMJ disorders, or who have been diagnosed with one of these disorders, have a wide range of treatment options available to them, up to and including dental surgery. The treatment you experience will depend in large part upon the cause of your discomfort and upon the effectiveness of prior treatments. Here is a look at some of the more common treatment options for TMJ disorders.

Treatment Option 1: At-Home Remedies                                                                 

The first approach to treating TMJ disorders is to treat the problems at home. These treatment options have the advantage of being more convenient and less expensive than more invasive options. They are also often quite effective, with the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) recommending that patients start with the more conservative options before moving on to more intense therapies. At-home treatments may include any one or a combination of the following:

  • Eating soft foods
  • Taking NSAIDs like ibuprofen
  • Avoiding habits, like chewing gum or biting nails, that can exacerbate TMJ disorders
  • Using ice packs or moist heat
  • Performing jaw exercises as suggested by a dentist or oral surgeon
  • Reducing stress through activities like yoga

The specific at-home remedies you try will depend upon the cause of your TMJ disorder and the recommendation of your oral health professional. For example, if excess stress is causing teeth grinding at night, stress reduction techniques like yoga may work well. On the other hand, eating soft foods for a few weeks may be effective if the jaw simply needs to rest.

Treatment Option 2: Prescribed Medications

Over-the-counter medications, like ibuprofen, are often sufficient to alleviate the pain associated with TMJ disorders. Sometimes, however, stronger medications are necessary to deal with the pain created by problems in the TMJ.

At these times, your oral health professional may prescribe you medications to more effectively alleviate your TMJ pain. For example, they may ask you to take muscle relaxants to help alleviate spasms around the TMJ that could be causing pain. Other medications you may be able to take for TMJ disorders include the following:

  • Low doses of antidepressants
  • Prescription anti-inflammatories like prescription ibuprofen
  • Opiate pain medications like hydrocodone
  • Sleep medications if pain is keeping you up
  • Anti-anxiety drugs to relieve anxiety that leads to problems like grinding of the teeth
  • Steroid injections
  • Botox injections to relax the muscles around the joint.

Treatment Option 3: Physical Therapy

If at-home treatments or medications do not sufficiently resolve a patient’s symptoms, there are still other options before dental surgery. For example, a patient may benefit from physical therapy. There, they can learn exercises to strengthen their jaw or to address problems that are leading to the TMJ disorder. Physical therapy may also use additional treatments. For example, they may use ultrasound to apply heat deep inside the joint or they may use moist heat to relax the muscles around the jaw.

As with most treatments for TMJ disorders, physical therapy will depend upon the reason for your TMJ problems and the approach the physical therapist will take will also depend upon your particular situation. It is always best to consult with an oral surgeon before addressing your TMJ symptoms to make sure you receive the most effective course of treatment.

Treatment Option 4: Orthodontic Treatment

When patients suffer TMJ disorders because of misaligned bites or because of teeth grinding, orthodontic solutions are sometimes appropriate. In these cases, you may be fitted for a splint or bite plate or mouth guard. These devices can prevent teeth grinding and help your joint muscles to relax. You often wear these, as prescribed, for a certain amount of time, but they are not generally intended to change your bite.

In cases of overcrowding of the teeth or a misaligned bite, you may be fitted for an orthotic. This device, which you wear for 4-6 months, will adjust your bite, resolve overcrowding, and get the TMJ into the proper position to alleviate your symptoms. Along with the orthotic, you may undergo x-rays, a CT scan, an MRI, TENS therapy, or other procedures to examine the jaw joint and to determine the appropriate position it should be in to resolve your issues.

Treatment Option 5: Dental Surgery

In more extreme cases of TMJ disorders, dental surgery may be necessary. There are several types of surgery that you may require, depending upon your particular situation. They are as follows:

  • Arthrocentesis: The irrigation of the jaw joint using small needles
  • Arthroscopy: Surgery on the joint using a thin tube through which a small scope and surgical instruments are inserted.
  • Open-joint surgery: An incision is made in the jaw to allow the surgeon to work on the joint during this type of orthognathic surgery.
  • Total joint replacement: The most invasive and extreme solution to TMJ disorders, which requires a hospital stay and a month or more of recovery

If you suffer from symptoms of TMJ disorders, do not hesitate to see an oral surgeon to learn about your treatment options. From at-home solutions to total joint replacement, there are many potential solutions to relieve your pain.

Here at Heart of Texas Oral Surgery, we offer many treatment options for TMJ disorders. We believe that the best results come from a combination of self-administered care and professional treatment. Whether you require conservative treatment like at-home remedies or more extensive care, like dental surgery, we can help you come up with the appropriate course of action so you can experience relief from your TMJ symptoms.