TMJ disorders affect the jaw joint, surrounding muscles, and ligaments that control the jaw. Symptoms can range from mild jaw clicking and trouble opening the mouth to headaches. Doctors may prescribe medications, physical therapies, or surgical procedures to treat TMJ disorders.
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is one of the most heavily used joints in the body. People use it to eat, talk, and even breathe.
This article discusses the different treatment options for TMJ disorders. It also explores home remedies, management tips, and the alternative treatments available.
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TMJ is a pair of joints that connect the jawbone (lower jaw) to the skull. These joints are on either side of the face, in front of the ears.
Temporomandibular joint disorders, abbreviated as TMD or TMJD, refer to any pain and dysfunction in the joints or muscles surrounding them.
The following examples are potential causes of TMJD:
- teeth and jaw injuries, such as dislocation
- dental issues, such as teeth clenching, grinding (bruxism), misalignment, or improper bite (malocclusion)
- poor posture
- autoimmune diseases
- inflammatory conditions such as arthritis
Doctors consider TMJD an acute or chronic condition, depending on the severity and frequency of the symptoms. It may cause several symptoms, including:
- issues with the jaw, such as popping or clicking sounds or locking
- pain in the jaw, neck, shoulders, or face
- difficulty opening the mouth wide
- problems with the ears, such as ringing (tinnitus) or earaches
- tooth pain and other dental issues
These symptoms may be present on just one or both sides of the face.
Since TMJ disorders have a variety of causes, there are also various treatment options for the condition. In most cases, symptoms resolve over time.
Conservative treatments are less invasive, and reversible treatments involve making only temporary changes to the structure or position of the jaw or teeth.
Below are nonsurgical options available for people with TMJ disorders.
Doctors often give medications and other nonsurgical treatments to relieve pain associated with TMJD.
These may be available over the counter (OTC) or require a prescription:
- OTC nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin
- OTC and prescription muscle relaxants
- prescription NSAIDs, such as naproxen
- prescription corticosteroids, such as prednisone
- prescription antidepressants
The doctor will decide on the most appropriate medication based on a person’s condition and overall health.
- Oral splints or mouth guards: These are the most widely recommended treatment. A wearable oral apparatus may help with malocclusion, grinding, and clenching. It can also help stabilize the jaw to alleviate pain and discomfort in the jaw.
A 2017 studyfound stabilizing splints helpful in the short-term management of TMJD.
- Physical therapy: A physical therapist may provide a range of treatments to manage underlying issues that can cause TMJD. Treatments include heat and cold therapy and muscle release, stretching, and resistance exercises.
Research from 2016demonstrated that postural exercises and jaw exercises were effective when treating TMJD.
- Counseling and stress management: TMJD may result from nail-biting, clenching, and grinding behaviors that occur due to stress or anxiety.
Evidencesuggests counseling and self-management-based therapies can be conservative and beneficial alternative treatments.
When conservative treatments are not effective, doctors may recommend surgical procedures.
Doctors may also directly inject corticosteroids into the affected joint to reduce pain and inflammation. A 2020 study found that supplementing TMJ arthrocentesis with steroid injections helped with longer-lasting pain management and pain-free jaw movement.
Doctors may recommend surgery to treat a person’s TMJD in some severe cases. The options include:
- Arthrocentesis: This procedure removes debris and inflammatory byproducts in the joint by rinsing the joint with fluid through tiny needles.
- Arthroscopy: This uses a small thin tube (arthroscope) to check, diagnose, and treat the cause of TMJD. This can include changing the position of the cartilage disc, improving joint surfaces, or treating scarring.
- Open-joint surgery (arthrotomy): Doctors use this procedure to repair, replace, or remove parts of the TMJ, and it is more invasive than the other types.
It is essential to ask doctors about the benefits, risks, and potential complications associated with the procedures before considering TMJD treatment.
Most TMJ disorders respond to remedies and management that a person performs at home. Several tips to help ease symptoms include:
- Going easy on the jaw: A person should avoid tough, chewy, and sticky foods such as chewing gum. They should cut food into small pieces or select soft foods.
- Using heat or cold: Applying a moist, warm compress or ice packs can relieve pain associated with TMJD.
- Stretching, exercising, and releasing muscles: Jaw stretching and strengthening exercises can help improve jaw movement and ease muscle tension.
Alternative treatments can help manage chronic pain associated with TMJ disorders. Some examples include:
- Breathing and relaxation techniques: Deep, conscious breathing can help relax tense muscles, which can ease tension-related TMJ pain.
- Biofeedback: This method uses sensors that give visual or auditory feedback to help a person become more aware of their body functions, including muscle tension.
- Acupuncture: A 2020 study found acupuncture was effective in acting quickly when treating painful symptoms. This is the treatment that people most widely use for myofascial TMJ — the most common TMJ syndrome.
Below are some questions that a person may wish to ask a doctor.
Will TMJD go away on its own?
TMJ disorders have several causes. Most of the time, addressing and treating the underlying cause will lead TMJD to resolve permanently.
People may experience relatively mild or periodic symptoms that could improve on their own within weeks or months with simple home therapy.
What happens if a person does not get treatment for TMJD?
TMJD is not a life threatening condition. However, depending on the cause of TMJD, it can lead to significant and persistent discomfort and tension. Chronic pain may cause other conditions, such as depression.
Can doctors cure TMJD?
It depends on the cause. The most common causes of TMJD, such as teeth grinding and clenching, are reversible and, therefore, are curable. However, doctors cannot cure TMJD due to arthritis, but people can manage the pain.
Are there ways to prevent it?
Adopting certain habits can help prevent stressing and overusing the jaw muscles. Maintaining a good posture, quitting chewing gum, and cutting tension-related practices, such as chewing pencils and biting nails, can help prevent TMJD.
The outlook for TMJ disorders depends on their underlying cause. Some go away on their own, and most respond well to home remedies combined with medication. Aggressive and invasive treatments are rarely necessary.
Whatever the cause, embracing habit changes, such as quitting chewing gum, can benefit people with TMJ disorders.
Jaw pain is a fairly common condition often neglected by people. However, TMJ disorders can lead to more significant headaches and discomfort and may soon hinder day-to-day functions if a person does not get treatment.
Most TMJ disorders are treatable. A person who experiences TMJD symptoms should consult a doctor for a prompt diagnosis and treatment.