TMJ disorder refers to a condition affecting the temporomandibular joint – the main joint found on each side of the face that connects the lower jaw to the skull. This joint moves in several different ways – both to open and close the mouth and to allow the jaw to slide forwards and backward and slightly from side to side. Ideally, the joint should move smoothly and with ease, but sometimes problems can occur. The joint can get out of position, become stiff and difficult to move, or even get stuck open, a condition that is commonly referred to as lockjaw.
TMJ disorder will often resolve itself without the need for professional intervention. However, if you find that your symptoms persist for more than a few weeks, or if they are getting in the way of your usual daily activities, we recommend that you speak to our team about the treatment options that may be available to you.
Wherever possible, your dentist will want to avoid you needing to take medications. Fortunately, there are a number of drug-free therapies that have proven to be effective in helping to reduce the symptoms associated with TMJ disorder. These are:
Splint therapy. Splinting can help to brace the joint so that it stays in place.
Physical therapy exercises. These can strengthen the muscles in the jaw and train them to keep the joint in place.
Heat and ice can be applied therapeutically. The heat helps to reduce pain, while ice will reduce inflammation and improve mobility.
Counseling to reduce TMJ-inducing behaviors. Some habits make TMJ more likely. Good examples include clenching/grinding your teeth (bruxism) and biting hard objects like pen lids or ice cubes. Therapy to reduce these behaviors can be helpful in counteracting the effects of TMJ and preventing further incidences.
If your TMJ disorder can’t be resolved using other therapies, you may be recommended to try medications to help. There are a number of medications that could help, and our team will work with you to find the drugs that will be most effective. These could include:
Anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling and inflammation and promote healing.
Traditional pain-relieving medications.
Tricyclic antidepressants, which have been shown to reduce pain.
Muscle relaxants, which as their name suggests, help to relax the muscles, improve blood flow and reduce discomfort.
These medications may be combined where necessary. Always follow the instructions provided by your dentist.
In very severe cases of TMJ, it may be necessary for the patient to undergo surgery. TMJ disorder is usually treated using arthroscopic surgery, which is where the joint itself is operated on through very small incisions placed into the jaw. This is a minimally invasive surgery, but it usually only performed as a last resort.