If you live with a Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, you know just how uncomfortable and even painful a condition it is. The cracking, popping, and locking sensation in your jaw can range from annoying to debilitating, and many sufferers hope for a permanent solution. However, the causes of TMJ are little understood, and unfortunately, so is the efficacy of long-term treatments like surgical options. But before you consider surgery for TMJ, there are plenty of treatment options that have proven to be effective at curing the disorder over time.
What are TMJ symptoms?
The temporomandibular joint attaches your lower jaw to the bottom of your skull on both sides of your head and allows you to open and close your mouth while chewing, yawning, or speaking. TMJ or TMJD refers to a variety of conditions that affects this joint’s mobility, presenting with symptoms like:
- A loud cracking or popping sound when opening the jaw, which may or may not be painful.
- A locking sensation when opening or closing your jaw, or the feeling that your jaw is stuck in one position.
- Stiffness or tension in the jaw or neck.
- Headaches or radiating pain coming from the jaw or back of the neck.
It’s still unclear what causes many instances of TMJ, but there are theories that the inflammation in the joint can be caused by things like tensing the muscles around the jaw due to stress, or injury to the jaw which can result in the dislocation of the soft tissue that cushions the joint. The good news is, because the condition often appears linked to neuromuscular causes, if you’re wondering how to cure TMJ permanently, it may be useful to think of treating your condition like any other muscular strain.
How to Cure TMJ Non-surgically
Because surgery is invasive, costly, and—in some cases—a temporary solution, there are plenty of other treatment routes that those affected by TMJ can consider first. In fact, in some cases, TMJ has been observed to go away on its own. Because TMJ is, foremost, a misalignment of the jaw, treatment from a chiropractor to realign the spine and jaw, medication to relax inflamed muscles, or oral splints or other medical devices can be successful in correcting the condition before surgical applications are necessary.
Some treatments that can be used to potentially cure TMJ include:
- Muscle relaxants are sometimes used for a few days or weeks to help relieve pain caused by TMJ disorders created by muscle spasms.
- Pain relievers and anti-inflammatories such as over-the-counter pain medications or prescription strength ibuprofen if the pain persists.
- Some medications which are used mostly for depression can be used in low doses for pain relief or the control of bruxism—the clinical name for teeth grinding.
- Certain TMJ exercises can be done to stretch and strengthen jaw muscles, alongside the use of moist heat and ice.
- Oral splints or mouth guards, otherwise called occlusal appliances. These can be soft or firm devices inserted over their teeth to help better align the jaw.
- Certain factors and behaviors that may aggravate your pain include teeth clenching or grinding, leaning on your chin, or biting fingernails, and may require psychological counseling to help you better understand and recognize these habits in order to stop them.
When Is Surgery for TMJ Recommended?
Surgery is still a valid option for finding relief from TMJ symptoms, but it should be considered as a matter of last resort after other, nonsurgical options have been exhausted. If your TMJ symptoms are consistent and debilitating, and nonsurgical options have proved ineffective or temporary, you should make an appointment with an orofacial pain expert to explore your options. Even surgical treatments have levels of invasiveness, and your orofacial surgeon may recommend a certain procedure over another. Some common TMJ surgeries include:
Arthrocentesis, which involves the insertion of small needles into the joint so that fluid can be irrigated through the joint to remove any inflammation.
Corticosteroid injections into the joint may be helpful at eliminating inflammation. Or, sometimes, injecting botulinum toxin type A (or Botox) into the jaw muscles may relieve pain.
TMJ arthroscopy, or “keyhole surgery” uses a small thin tube (cannula) which is placed into the joint. Small surgical instruments are then used for surgery. TMJ arthroscopy is considered to have less risks than open-joint surgery does but has its own limitations as well.
Open-joint surgery. If your symptoms appear to be caused by a structural problem in the joint, your doctor or dentist may suggest open-joint surgery (arthrotomy) to repair or replace the joint. Open-joint surgery carries a greater risk of complication than other procedures, though, and should be considered very carefully.
If you are curious about finding both surgical and non-surgical treatment for TMJ in Reno, contact the professionals at the Northern Nevada Center for Orofacial Pain for a consultation about your options. Once an orofacial pain specialist diagnoses the cause of your symptoms, they can help you establish a treatment plan that works best for your level of pain, tolerance of risk, and goals for treatment.