How to Treat TMJ Disorder

Do you experience pain or clicking when you open and close your mouth? Your temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, could be responsible. Fortunately, there’s a range of TMJ treatment options that can help you live without discomfort. 

Find out how to treat TMJ disorder here. 

What Is TMJ Disorder? 

TMJ disorder is a malfunction of the temporomandibular joint that causes severe pain and discomfort. There are three types of TMJ disorder: muscle disorders, degenerative joint disorders, and internal derangement, each of which can be intermittent or chronic. 

What Causes TMJ Disorder? 

Causes of TMJ disorder are usually related to problems with your bite, stress, or grinding and clenching of the teeth when sleeping. Traumatic injury to the TMJ or face can also lead to disorder. While some causes of TMJ disorder are still unknown, certain genetic dispositions may increase your risk factor. 

Other cause factors include: 

  • Misaligned bite

  • Arthritis in the joint 

  • Overuse of the jaw 

  • Movement of the disc between the ball and socket of the joint

  • Missing teeth that cause an uneven biting surface

5 Ways TMJ Disorder Is Treated 

There are several different options for treating TMJ disorder, such as stress-reducing exercises, mouthguards to prevent teeth grinding, and avoiding extreme jaw movements. For acute cases of TMJ disorder, steroid injections and surgery may also be used for treatment. 

  1. Lifestyle Modification

TMJ disorder is caused by a variety of factors, the most common being stress and certain lifestyle choices. Other factors, such as grinding and clenching of the teeth, arthritis, and facial injury also increase your risk of developing a TMJ disorder. 

While most people experience symptoms of TMJ disorder at some point, many cases are resolved without treatment or through at-home TMJ remedies, including: 

  • Over-the-counter medicines

  • Dentist-recommend jaw exercises

  • Soft food diet 

  • Avoid chewing gum or wide-mouthed yawns

  • Massage the jaw muscles 

  • Heating pads and ice packs

Regular visits to a dental professional can be helpful for the early detection and treatment of TMJ disorders. With over 30 years of combined experience, our dentists in Omaha, NE will examine your TMJ to determine how well it functions and whether there are issues with your jaw’s motion.

  1. Physical Therapy

Physical therapists can help restore the natural movement of your jaw, which should temporarily decrease your pain. Based on their assessment, certain treatments will be selected for you, such as: 

  • Posture adjustment - If you sit with your head in an increased forward position, you may be placing undue stress on your TMJ. A physical therapist can help teach you to be aware of your posture while also providing a list of exercises to help take pressure off of your jaw, head, and neck. 

  • Improve jaw movement - Physical therapists use manual therapy to gently restore joint and muscle flexibility and to break up scar tissue that’s developed after constant injury to the TMJ has occurred. 

  • Special pain treatments - For extreme cases of TMJ disorder, your physical therapy may provide special pain treatments, such as electrical stimulation or ultrasound. 

If a physical therapist suspects your TMJ disorder is caused by misalignment, they’ll likely refer you to a dentist. TMJ treatment specialists, such as our dentists at Eagle Run West Dental Group, can help correct your alignment with dental appliances that relieve pain and improve jaw function.

  1. Bite Correction

When home remedies are ineffective, a dentist may recommend a customized dental splint. Dental splints keep the teeth and bite aligned, prevent grinding, and reduce jaw clenching. Research has found splints help minimize TMJ pain, without long-term side effects.   

There are two main types of dental splints, TMJ and bruxism (teeth grinding) mouthguards. TMJ mouthguards are made of hard plastic and are intended to reposition, stabilize, and take pressure off of the jaw. 

Bruxism mouthguards consist of plastic or a soft, flexible material. Depending on the severity of teeth grinding, bruxism mouthguards provide cushioning to alleviate the pain associated with clenching. 

What Happens If I Don’t Fix My Bite? 

Misalignment of the teeth or jaw can cause tenderness, locking and clicking of the jaw when moving it, difficulty chewing, and muscle spasms. Leaving misalignment issues untreated can also lead to critical health conditions, including: 

  • Digestive issues

  • Pain while eating or sleeping

  • Severe headaches 

  • Crippling pain 

  1. Steroid Injections & Botox

If at-home remedies prove to be unsuccessful, steroid injections into the jaw can provide temporary relief from symptoms of TMJ disorder. Aside from being minimally invasive, corticosteroid injections minimize inflammation while also reducing chronic jaw pain. The outpatient procedure takes less than 30 minutes and has no recovery time. 

Botox, or botulinum toxin, is also used for treating TMJ disorder symptoms. The neurotoxin paralyzes the muscles in the jaw, preventing clenching and temporarily eliminating symptoms. Side effects from Botox are minimal, but they can cause a brief fixed smile. 

How Long Do Steroid Injections Last? 

Steroid injections commonly cause a flare-up of pain and inflammation for up to 48 hours after administration. After that, all discomfort should decrease and relief from the injection can last anywhere from six weeks to six months. 

  1. TMJ Surgery

Surgery is considered a last resort option for treating TMJ disorders. Parts of the TMJ can be repositioned, repaired, removed, or replaced. However, there are considerable risks associated with TMJ surgery, such as loss of jaw motion, scarring, and rejection of artificial joints. 

Types of TMJ Surgery

There are three types of TMJ surgery, including: 

  • Arthrocentesis - This minimally invasive procedure is performed by injecting fluid into the TMJ, which helps wash out any chemical by-products causing pressure. Arthrocentesis is the least invasive surgical option and has a higher success rate than other, more complicated procedures. 

  • Arthroscopy - For arthroscopy, a small opening is made in the skin above the TMJ. A narrow tube is placed in the incision, where tiny surgical tools are used to operate. Arthroscopy is less invasive than open-joint surgery and has a recovery time of several days to a week. 

  • Open-joint surgery - Open-joint surgery consists of making a small incision above the TMJ, so your surgeon can directly operate on the joint. This type of TMJ surgery is reserved for severe cases, such as excessive tissue or bone growth that’s affecting motion, fusion of the joint tissue or bone, and the inability to reach the joint with arthroscopy.  With open-joint surgery, your surgeon should be able to remove bony growth and excess tissue, as well as repair or reposition the TMJ if it’s damaged. 

TMJ surgery is an option if other conservative treatments have failed to reduce the severity of symptoms. When it comes to treating TMJ disorders, it’s essential to try safer, non-invasive options first. Or, if you’d like a second opinion, our dentists in Omaha provide regular consultations about the most effective treatment options for TMJ disorders. 

Is TMJ Disorder a Permanent Condition?

TMJ disorder isn’t permanent, but it can have a critical impact on your quality of life. While TMJ discomfort may go away on its own, anyone with the following symptoms should consider asking a dental professional’s opinion to prevent or avoid future issues:  

  • Severe headache 

  • Chronic jaw pain

  • Trouble chewing or opening and closing the mouth

  • Facial swelling

  • Discomfort in the neck, shoulders, and face

  • Ear ringing

  • Dizziness 

TMJ Treatment in Omaha, NE 

While steroid injections, physical therapy, and surgery can work for more extreme cases of TMJ disorder, dentist-prescribed methods such as lifestyle modifications and bite correction are easy, inexpensive ways to find relief for chronic pain and discomfort. 

Call 402-498-8804 or contact our dentists at Eagle Run West Dental Group in Omaha, NE to discuss your TMJ treatment options today! 

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