Temporomandibular joint disorders, or TMJ, are a group of problems that cause pain and poor function in the jaw and surrounding muscles. The most common symptoms of TMJ include pain or tenderness in the jaw area, difficulty biting or chewing and clicking or popping sounds while moving the jaw. Since there are other reasons why pain may be occurring in the jaw and surrounding muscles, it’s important to see your doctor to rule out any other conditions such as decayed teeth, sinus infections or facial neuralgia.
When making a diagnosis, the doctor will note your symptoms, take a detailed medical and dental history and examine the problem areas. Some of the things that the doctor may look for are the range of motion in your jaw, where in the jaw there is pain or pressure and how it sounds and feels when you open and close your mouth. X-rays, CT scans or MRIs may also be needed to identify problems in the teeth, joints, bones or disks.
If you get a positive diagnosis for TMJ, rest assured that there are many effective treatment options. We now know a lot more about this condition than in years past, and many patients find relief through a variety of treatments, techniques, lifestyle changes and carefully prescribed medications.
Let’s review some options.
Mouth splints and/or corrective dental treatments may be recommended and an oral surgery consultation may be recommended. Mouth splints are used to stabilize the bite so that the teeth slide smoothly against each other and allow the jaw to relax. Most of the time, patients only need to wear a splint or mouth guard at night, but in severe cases they may have to wear the splint throughout the day to alleviate the pain. Fortunately, less visible splints made from clear materials are available for patients requiring such intensive care.
Low-level laser therapy may be used to reduce pain and inflammation, as well as improve range of motion when opening the mouth. Another low-risk treatment option is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) which uses low-level electrical currents to provide pain relief. Your pain management specialist will discuss these options with you if it is determined to be the best care plan for you.
To reduce pain and inflammation, an ice pack can be applied to the side of the face for 10 minutes, followed by a few simple stretches and applying a warm towel to the affected side of the face for 5 minutes.
Stress doesn’t cause TMJ, but it certainly doesn’t help. It tenses up the muscles surrounding the jaw and makes it more likely that you’ll clench or grind your teeth. Physical therapy, massage therapy, acupuncture or deep breathing techniques can be helpful therapies for managing TMJ pain.
Changing poor body mechanics may significantly reduce your pain. The following is a list of some simple lifestyle changes that can reduce pressure on your jaw and decrease pain and discomfort:
Avoid foods that aggravate TMJ symptoms such as hard, crunchy, or chewy foods, and large foods that require you to open your mouth wide. The best foods for individuals suffering TMJ sypmptoms are those that are soft, such as scrambled eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese, mashed potatoes, fish and small bites of fruits and vegetables.
Certain medications can be helpful for TMJ. NSAIDs [please provide examples of NSAIDs] are the best options when you want to reduce inflammation, swelling and pain. Your doctor may be able to prescribe you a higher strength of these drugs for added relief or may determine muscle relaxants or anti-anxiety medications are best to reduce anxiety and control pain.
If it’s found that the aligning of your teeth is causing the pain and discomfort, corrective treatments may be helpful for you. Some of these treatments may include replacing missing teeth, crowns, bridges or braces. The goal is to reposition the teeth so that they correct an existing bite problem. If all other treatments have been unsuccessful, surgery may be considered as an option.