What is TMJ Disorder?
Lockdown: Breaking TMJ Dysfunction’s Grip On Your Face
You’ve probably never heard of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Not many people have. That is unless you have been made aware of the joint’s unacknowledged and uncelebrated existence when something goes terribly awry. Unbeknownst to most, the TMJ is one of the most utilized structures in the human body. It’s the hinge connecting the upper and lower jaw, and thus, directly engaged every time you open and close your mouth. Talking, eating, and making silly facial expressions are but a few of the critical actions in which the TMJ is directly activated.
Does Your Face Hurt? It Might Be TMJ Disorder.
Disorders involving this very important joint can manifest itself in a variety of ways. One of the most common is known as Bruxism. Bruxism, or teeth grinding as it is often called, is excessive teeth grinding or jaw clenching and can result in severe enamel wear, headaches, and in pain or tenderness of the temporomandibular joints. Teeth grinding, however, is but one potential cause out of many that could contribute to TMJ Disorder. In truth, TMJ Disorder is an umbrella term for orofacial pain attributed to a disorder of the temporomandibular joints. TMJ Disorder is what is referred to as a “symptom complex” as opposed to a single disease or physical condition. What this means is that besides a common toothache, there is a very good chance that pain related to the mouth, jaw, and face is directly related to TMJ Disorder. By this definition, TMJ Disorder is the second most common reason for orofacial pain behind common dental pain, and negatively affects as much as a third of the general populace.
TMJ Disorder Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of TMJ Disorder will vary from patient to patient. Some symptoms are common and widespread amongst TMJ Disorder sufferers while others are relatively limited and must be diagnosed by a professional and in context with other signs and symptoms. Generally, when it comes to diagnosing TMJ Disorder, the signs and symptoms can be divided into two groups: “The Big Three” of cardinal symptoms and a secondary group of less significant indications.
Signs and Symptoms of TMJ Disorder
The Big Three
- Pain or tenderness in the muscles related to chewing or preauricular pain in the joint itself. Orofacial pain is a defining feature of TMJ Dysfunction.
- Limited range of movement in the mouth and jaw. There may be locking of the jaw and overall diminished ability to move naturally, often accompanied by muscle and joint stiffness.
- Snap, crackle, and pops. Noises emitted by the joint during usage or movement which are often described as a clicking, popping, and crepitus (grinding) sound is a major indicator of TMJ dysfunction.
Other Signs and Symptoms of TMJ Disorder
- Hearing loss or diminished auditory acuity
- Tinnitus or ringing in the ears
- Malocclusion or misalignment of your bite
The Three TMJ Disorder Treatment Paths
Here at Facial and Oral Surgery Institute, we advocate a holistic approach tailored to each individual’s needs. We address TMJ Disorder with a combination of three principal approaches: self-care, pain management, and direct intervention.
Typically the initial approach is aimed at relieving joint pain and reducing muscle spasms.
- Soft food diet
- Application of heat and ice
- Resting your jaw
- Keeping your jaw in a separated resting position (apart) when not chewing
- Jaw exercises
- Night guard
Non-surgical medical treatments can help manage any pain or discomfort resulting from TMJ dysfunction.
- Pain Relievers. Prescription-strength pain relievers can be employed to lessen the pain associated with TMJ disorders.
- Muscle relaxants. These types of drugs are sometimes used for a few days or weeks to help relieve pain caused by TMJ disorders.
- Sedatives. Bruxism can often aggravate temporomandibular joint pain; if this is the case, the doctor may prescribe a sedative to help relax the jaw.
- Tricyclic antidepressants. Medications formerly employed as antidepressants, such as amitriptyline, can be used for chronic pain relief, and are especially effective at combating tension headaches and other TMJ disorder related symptoms.
Direct Intervention - Four Surgical Procedures
When both self-care and pain management-based plans fail to produce satisfactory results, direct intervention in the form of surgery or injections may be recommended.
- Arthrocentesis. Also known as joint aspiration or irrigation, an arthrocentesis procedure involves using a syringe to collect synovial fluids from a joint capsule. This process will help remove the inflammatory byproducts and debris that could be the underlying cause of the discomfort or pain.
- Arthroplasty with or without disk replacement. Arthroplasty is surgery to repair, reposition, replace, or remove parts in the Temporomandibular Joint. This usually involves the articular disc that cushions the jaw joint. The surgeon may repair, reposition, or replace the disc with your own tissue or an artificial disc. In the process, scar tissue or bony growths in the jaw joint can also be removed. If the disc needs to be removed (discectomy), the surgeon can replace it with an artificial disc.
- Botox Injections. Corticosteroid injections into the joint may be helpful and less invasive than other solutions. Injecting Botox into the jaw muscles used for chewing may relieve pain associated with TMJ disorders.
- Surgery. If more conservative treatments do not improve the condition and there appears to be a structural problem within the joint itself, we may recommend surgery to repair or replace the joint.
Think you might be dealing with TMJ Disorder? Contact Facial & Oral Surgery Institute today for a consultation. Let us help you design a personalized treatment plan that will put the pain away for good.