The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects your jaw to your skull. You have one joint on each side of your face where the maxilla, mandible, and jaw muscles meet. Typically, these structures work together harmoniously, and you do not even realize they are there. However, several conditions can cause TMJ pain and discomfort, leading patients to work with an oral and maxillofacial surgeon to find relief. Numerous treatment options can be explored before recommending surgery.
Possible Causes of TMJ Disorders
There is not a single cause of TMJ disorders. Some people develop pain from the stress put on the joint due to constantly clenching their teeth or tightening their jaw muscles. If you are someone who grinds your teeth at night, this can lead to problems. Other causes can include arthritis, muscle tears, or an injury that damages the joint. This can cause the joint to slip out of position and create a clicking noise or popping sensation when opening your mouth. A misaligned bite can also put strain on the joint and result in pain.
Symptoms of a TMJ Disorder
Not all cases of jaw pain are due to TMJ disorders, but they can certainly be the culprit. Several symptoms may indicate a TMJ problem:
- Your jaw pops, clicks, catches, or grates when opening your mouth.
- You have difficulty opening your mouth wide such as when yawning.
- Your jaw muscles are sore or tight when you wake up.
- You have a gap between your teeth or jaws when your mouth is closed.
- You experience frequent headaches or neck pain.
- You frequently grind your teeth or clench your jaw.
- You have arthritis in other joints.
- You have endured a head, neck, or mouth injury.
TMJ Surgery Overview
When non-surgical treatment options are not effective in alleviating TMJ pain, surgery may be recommended. This can include jaw reconstruction, joint repair, or other procedures to realign or reposition the jaw so that there is less strain on the joint.
Surgical intervention is always the last resort for treating TMJ disorders once all other options are exhausted. The first line of defense is self-care and stress management to reduce muscle tension and spasms in your jaw. Anti-inflammatory medications or steroids may decrease inflammation in the tissue and muscles around the temporomandibular joint. You may also find it beneficial to apply ice or heat to the area. Try both and see which one offers more relief.
Being conscientious about resting your jaw can also help. Try to limit your talking and eating during the day, and be more aware of when you are clenching or flexing your jaw as you work. Changes to your diet can also help, such as switching to a soft food diet. Select foods that are easy to chew and do not require much bite force. This could include scrambled eggs, pasta, soups, mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables, smoothies, or salmon.
If you clench or grind your teeth while you sleep, the doctor may give you a splint or nightguard to wear. This plastic device can reduce muscle tension by separating your teeth, reducing tooth wear, and keeping your jaw in a more relaxed position. Other appliances can be used to gently reposition your jaw and reduce strain on the temporomandibular joint.
Managing your stress levels to alleviate muscle tension may help as well. Working with a physical therapist can teach you how to maintain good posture, properly exercise your jaw, and move your joints in a way that minimizes TMJ pain.
Remember that it can take time for the pain to resolve. It is essential to adhere to your treatment plan and give various strategies a chance to work. The longer you maintain positive changes, the more improvement you may experience.
What About Bite Correction or Surgery?
Bite correction may be an option if your TMJ disorder is caused or worsened by how your teeth fit together. Adjusting an overbite, underbite, or cross-bite may restore equilibrium and reduce pressure on your temporomandibular joints. Orthodontic devices may also be effective in correcting bite problems. If you have serious jaw problems such as dislocation, degeneration, your jaw is locked shut, or appliance treatment has been unsuccessful, your doctor may recommend surgical intervention to correct these issues.
If you would like to know more about TMJ Disorders, contact our office located in New Port Richey, Clearwater, or Westchase/Tampa at (727) 842-5180, (727) 791-6529 or (813) 749-0930.