Patients who suffer from TMJ experience severe, chronic pain of the temporomandibular joint that often worsens with stress.
Unfortunately, stress is just a normal part of the daily routine for this complex joint, as its efficient functioning is vital to eating, speaking and displaying a range of emotions. Here, trusted York-area dentist Dr. Gordon Bell reviews causes and treatment options for TMJ.
Finding a Cause
Because the cause can be elusive and reported symptoms are not always consistent, TMJ has not always been taken seriously. Some considered it to be an example of a psychosomatic condition that had no real cause, notwithstanding its very real physical consequences for sufferers. More recently, studies have demonstrated that TMJ is a true — and truly disabling — condition experienced by millions.
Possible causes of TMJ include arthritis, behaviors such as grinding or clenching, dislocation resulting from injury or trauma, scar tissue that interferes with the bite, infections, autoimmune disease and genetic predisposition.
Pathways of Pain
With TMJ, pain begins in the jaw but may radiate to other facial areas, the neck, ears and even the shoulders. In addition to pain, persons may experience popping or clicking sensations when the joint is in motion, difficulty opening the mouth or chewing, a feeling that the jaw is locking, facial swelling, tooth sensitivity, headaches, earaches, or malocclusion, which is a misalignment of the bite. This change in the bite is sometimes caused by repositioning of teeth; when teeth drift in the mouth, they may force the jaw to adjust by moving the temporomandibular joint out of its socket. Restoring the bite to its proper alignment can be an important first step in treating TMJ.
Other treatment options include muscle relaxants, occlusal appliances such as mouth guards or oral splints, physical therapy focused on exercising the jaw muscles, ultrasound treatment, stress management, corticosteroid injections and arthrocentesis, which involves insertion of needles into the joint to remove debris or substances that may be interfering with jaw function.
Less commonly, invasive solutions are tried. Arthroscopy can help check the condition of the joints and allow repairs to be made. Arthrotomy is open-joint surgery, and could be advised if TMJ is caused by a structural issue. Alternately, a condylotomy can be performed to repair damage to the mandible, instead of the joint. This option is considered in cases where patients report locking of the jaw.
To learn more about diagnosing and treating TMJ, schedule an appointment with Dr. Bell at his York or Hellam office by calling (888) 906-2343 or emailing The Center for Dental Excellence today.