In a previous last post, we explained what TMJ is. TMJ is an acronym for the Temporomandibular Joint. It connects the lower jawbone to the skull and we use it for chewing and speaking. To clarify, the joint is a sliding hinge that allows the jaw to move up and down and side to side. And when it hurts, it hurts. Happily, there are many TMJ treatments to consider.
Also in that previous post, we told you about the causes, the symptoms, the diagnosis, the prevention, as well as the risks. To explain more, this post will explore the wide variety of possible treatments for TMJ. On the positive side, the vast majority of TMJ treatments are non-invasive. To begin with, the treatments listed below are generally in order from least to most invasive. However, depending on each unique case, some options are better than others. So it is not a list of TMJ treatments in order of use.
Self-Care is at the top of the list of TMJ treatments
A dentist may suggest simple self-care practices and exercises. For instance, moist heat and/or cold packs also relieves pain. Specifically apply the ice pack for 10 minutes, complete simple stretching exercises, and finish with a warm wet towel on the face for about 5 minutes. For the most part, do this several times a day.
A patient should avoid straining the jaw. With that in mind, learn relaxation techniques that include the jaw. Practicing good posture has an impact on the jaw. A couple of points often overlooked are to avoid yawning when possible and to keep chewing to a minimum. Additionally, avoid holding the telephone between the shoulder and ear and avoid resting the chin on your hands. As often as possible, keep the jaw in a comfortable resting position with the teeth slightly apart. Always be sure to avoid clenching the teeth or grinding them. Further, one way to help with these habits is to rest the tongue on the palate behind the upper front teeth.
Another self-care strategy is temporary changes in diet. To keep the jaw from working so hard, eat soft foods such as yogurt, soft bread, cottage cheese, eggs, mashed potatoes, fish, cooked fruits and vegetables, or beans. Consequently, that means avoiding hard and crunchy foods such as hard pretzels or chips, raw fruit and vegetables, and sticky or hard candy. Sadly, it is also a good idea to avoid chewing gum as well.
Mindfulness or meditation techniques often helps a patient slow the breathing and relax tense muscles. Relaxation relieves TMJ pain.
This technique involves inserting thin needles into the body at specific pressure points. These are points that trigger the central nervous system and stimulate the body’s natural healing and pain relief processes.
In biofeedback, the use of electronic devices detect specific areas of stress and tightness in the body. Overall, this gives the patient greater awareness of where tension is so they can focus on relaxing those areas. Again, this is an effort to help the patient relax tense muscles and joints.
Some dentists refer patients to a pain psychologist or a pain management center to work on pain management techniques to ease their symptoms.
TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. In essence, this therapy uses a low voltage electrical current to relax the jaw muscles. Relaxing these muscles reduces pain. TENS therapy is available in an office or at home.
Ultrasound provides deep heat to the TMJ. This heat removes the soreness and improves joint movement.
Radio waves are likely a surprise to hear about on a list of TMJ treatments. However, radio waves create a low-level electrical stimulation. This increases blood flow to the jaw and provides TMJ relief.
If the condition persists or is more severe, doctors recommend medication. Usually, they suggest over-the-counter, nonsteroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen and are found in Tylenol ®, Advil ®, Motrin ®, or Aleve ®. If the pain is severe, doctors prescribe stronger pain medicine for the patient. Muscle relaxers are used to relax tight jaw muscles and prevent clenching and grinding of the teeth. Anti-anxiety medication or antidepressants relieve stress, which is also a trigger that exacerbates TMJ symptoms.
Trigger Point Injections
If typical medications do not address the pain, a patient may need injections to strengthen the bone and ease the inflammation. The injections are anesthetics. To relieve the pain, injections are made into the tender muscles of the face known as trigger points.
Another surprise on the TMJ treatments list is Botulinum Toxin injections, commonly known as BOTOX. It can help reduce muscle mass and inflammation.
Doctors or dentists recommend splints or mouth guards for some TMJ patients. In particular, they are worn at night. the device usually is a mouthpiece that fits over the teeth. The device provides a more stable contact between the teeth. The appliances also correct improper bites and prevent patients from grinding or clenching their teeth.
Corrective dental treatments include a wide variety of options. For example, extractions are sometimes necessary as well as replacing missing teeth. On the other hand, a crown or bridge may be the solution. The dentist often refers patients to an orthodontist for more extensive, slow, and longer-term correction.
Before doctors consider surgery for TMJ, their attempts at all other treatment options fail. There are 3 types of TMJ Surgery: arthrocentesis, arthroscopy, and open-joint surgery. Which type of surgery is recommended depends on the patient’s symptoms and the complexity of the problem.
Arthrocentesis is a minor procedure that can usually be performed in an office with a local anesthetic. It may be recommended when the jaw suddenly locks in a closed position. It helps reduce TMJ inflammation. Sterile fluids are inserted by needles into the joint and wash it out. The doctor removes any scar tissue. In addition, the doctor adjusts any disc that is out of place.
This procedure requires general anesthesia and a surgeon. In this event, a surgeon makes an incision just in front of the ear and uses a small instrument with a lens and a light. A video is connected to the lens and allows the surgeon to see the area surrounding the jaw. Subsequently, the surgeon may then remove scar tissue, remove inflamed tissue, or realign a disc. Of course, this will depend on the findings of the video and the cause of the pain. Each patient is unique. This surgery involves tiny incisions and has less scarring, less recovery time, less discomfort, and fewer complications than open-joint surgery.
Open-joint surgery is the most invasive treatment for the most severe cases of TMJ. Under general anesthesia, a long incision is made to insert instruments. This type of procedure is necessary when there are tumors around the TMJ if the bone in the TMJ is wearing away, if there are chips in the bone, or if there is extreme scarring. Consequently, the surgery involves more discomfort, a longer recovery time, and a chance of scarring and nerve injury.
Don’t ignore your TMJ pain! As you can see, there are many different types of treatment for TMJ pain. Come see us at Danville Family Dentistry to assess your jaw pain and offer recommendations to alleviate it. Let us help you choose the best option for your TMJ! Contact us today!
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Disclaimer: The information included in this article is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.