What Is TMJ Surgery?

TMJ disorder is a potentially debilitating condition that affects the jaw joint. In some cases, where conservative treatments fail to reduce the severity of symptoms, patients may need TMJ surgery to restore normal jaw function. The question is, what is TMJ surgery?  

With over three decades of combined experience, our West Omaha dentists have helped treat hundreds of patients with TMJ disorder. Find out what TMJ is and when it’s an option here.

What Is TMJ Disorder? 

Your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint that connects your upper and lower jawbones. It’s located on both sides of your head and allows you to open and close your jaw. However, when this joint becomes damaged TMJ disorder can wear down the cartilage between the skull and jaw. 

While it’s hard to pin down the exact source, there are several cause factors of TMD, including: 

  • Overuse of the jaw

  • Grinding or clenching your teeth

  • Misaligned bite

  • Missing teeth causing an uneven biting surface

  • Injury to the jaw, like whiplash

What Does TMJ Pain Feel Like?

Symptoms of TMJ disorder usually range from mild to severe and include aching pain in and around the jaw and difficulty chewing. Mild cases of TMD may cause clicking or popping sounds. The jaw can lock in severe cases, making it difficult to open and close your mouth. 

Other symptoms of TMJ disorder may include:

  • Pain or tenderness in your back, neck, and shoulders

  • Swelling on the sides of the face

  • Toothaches

  • Ringing in the ears

  • Severe headaches or migraines

  • Dizziness

What Is TMJ Surgery? 

TMJ surgery is a procedure performed to fix jaw-related conditions. When conservative treatments have failed, surgery is opted for as a last resort. 

There are a few different types of TMJ surgery, ranging from minimally or moderately invasive to complex procedures that require a hospital stay. An oral or maxillofacial surgeon performs each type of surgery. 

Types of TMJ Surgery


Arthrocentesis is the least invasive type of TMJ surgery and has a short recovery time of one to two days. The procedure involves injecting a sterile solution, also known as irrigation, into the temporomandibular joint. This helps flush out scar tissue and any inflammatory chemicals causing pressure. Once irrigated, the joint may be treated with corticosteroids or other medications. 

Arthrocentesis is typically performed under local anesthesia at an outpatient surgical center and has a higher success rate than other TMJ surgical treatments.  


Arthroscopy is another minimally invasive procedure used to treat TMJ disorder. That said, arthroscopic surgery is slightly more involved than arthrocentesis, and recovery takes about a week. 

During the procedure, the oral surgeon makes a small incision near the ear and inserts a scope to look at the affected joint. The surgeon may flatten the bone, remove scar tissue, or reposition the TMJ disc. 


Arthroplasty, or open-joint surgery, is the most intensive type of TMJ surgery and is typically reserved for severe cases. The procedure is performed at a local hospital, as it may require an overnight stay. Recovery time ranges from two to six weeks, depending on the case. 

With this procedure, a longer incision is made above the TMJ, so the surgeon can directly operate on the joint. This allows them to remove bone spurs, excess tissue, and other growths in the jaw that may be causing your pain. The surgeon can also repair or reposition the temporomandibular joint if it’s damaged. 

Joint Replacement

If the TMJ has deteriorated — whether due to osteoarthritis or trauma — joint replacement may be an option. However, the surgery is extensive, and most patients can expect a three to five-day hospital stay. 

During replacement surgery, the joint connecting the upper and lower jawbones is replaced with an implant. Joint replacement is a last resort procedure for those dealing with chronic pain and limited jaw mobility. 

When Is TMJ Surgery Needed?

There are various options for treating TMJ disorder, such as oral splints, muscle relaxers, and steroid injections. However, when these treatments fail, some people turn to TMJ surgery. 

Here are a few signs it may be time to talk to your dentist about oral surgery:

  • Your jaw joint has deteriorated due to trauma, osteoarthritis, or a genetic disorder. 

  • Your jaw is significantly misaligned and can’t be fixed with braces or orthodontics. 

  • You’ve tried other conservative treatments like medication or physical therapy

  • Your TMD symptoms have disrupted your life and affected your well-being. 

Contact Our Dental Office in Omaha, NE

At Eagle Run West Dental Group, we understand how debilitating TMJ disorder can be. If you or a family member suspects TMD, contact our office in West Omaha to schedule a consultation. 

Our goal is to restore your oral health and well-being as quickly as possible.

Call 402-498-8004 or contact us today for more information. 

Author Bio: Drs. Sharlene and Robert Wilson offer a variety of general and cosmetic dentistry services in Omaha, NE. They both earned their doctorate from the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Dentistry. With over 30 years of combined experience, both are committed to helping patients achieve beautiful, healthy, and long-lasting smiles. Call 402-498-8804 to schedule an appointment. 

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