Studies have found that temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders affect some 10 million people across the United States. These conditions can cause symptoms like jaw pain, discomfort around the ears, facial aches, and locked jaw.
Relieving the pain is vital, as TMJ pain can have a significant effect on your quality of life. Everyday activities like eating, talking, and yawning are difficult, and you may even find it difficult to fall asleep. Luckily, there are a variety of remedies both you and your doctors can try to relieve your TMJ pain.
What Exactly Is TMJ?
Think of the joints as hinges. Under normal circumstances, they slide smoothly as they create a connection between your skull and jawbone. TMJ occurs when the cartilage surrounding the bones becomes damaged.
In some cases, TMJ disorders occur when the disk that separates the bones shifts slightly. Once it’s misaligned, you may experience hallmark symptoms like facial and jaw pain and discomfort.
Who Is at Risk of Developing TMJ Disorders?
Some risk factors are situational, such as clenching your jaw repeatedly due to stress, or grinding your teeth at night as a matter of a habit. People who chew gum frequently are also at greater risk.
There are also some medical conditions that could increase your chances of experiencing a TMJ disorder, including osteoarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. Arthritis in particular is a common culprit because it causes the cartilage in the jaw to break down, preventing it from absorbing shock effectively.
How Can You Relieve TMJ Pain?
Milder discomfort often goes away on its own, or can be resolved with home remedies. More intense pain, however, typically requires medical intervention. Keep in mind that what works for one person may not be effective for another.
Some medications, such as over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, may be enough to relieve your discomfort. People who clench their teeth, however, may require muscle relaxants to loosen the jaw muscles.
There’s also some evidence that antidepressants can be useful in relieving pain associated with TMJ disorder. These aren’t just for patients who experience depression; they work by changing the way that the body deciphers pain signals and may help you sleep better, too.
Dentists may also recommend you incorporate drug-free therapeutic remedies, either as a first line of defense or alongside medication, depending on the severity of your symptoms.
- Physical therapy: TMJ disorders affect your jaw muscles, preventing them from controlling movement effectively. Physical therapists use a combination of modalities, including ultrasound, ice or heat exposure, light therapy, and manual stimulation to relieve tightening and spasming.
- Mouth guard: Mouth guards are commonly worn by people with TMJ disorders because they prevent patients from grinding or clenching their teeth. They can be especially useful at night when people have less control over their actions. Sometimes they’re worn temporarily, but some patients might wear them regularly.
- Ultrasound therapy: Studies have found that applying high-frequency sound waves via ultrasound to the affected joint can be therapeutic. It’s shown that the sound waves minimize pain by cutting down on swelling and boosting blood circulation to the area, thereby facilitating healing and bringing relief.
Some patients may require more invasive treatment for their symptoms. There are several common options, from minor procedures to more involved surgeries.
- Injectables: Corticosteroids are usually the first choice for treating TMJ symptoms via injection. The anti-inflammatory may bring down swelling in the joint, relieving your pain and making daily habits like eating and speaking more comfortable. There’s growing evidence that injecting botulinum toxin A (more commonly known as Botox) may relieve tension in the muscle, but this option hasn’t yet been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
- Arthrocentesis: The beauty of the arthrocentesis procedure is that it’s minimally invasive, yet may successfully restore mobility to the joint while relieving pain. It’s often considered the next choice when over-the-counter medications and drug-free therapies don’t help. The treatment involves flushing away the scar tissue and debris in the joint.
- Arthroscopy: Also known as keyhole surgery, this procedure involves the insertion of a slender tube-like camera in the joint area. The surgeon can use various instruments to extract debris or built-up cartilage, move the disk if it’s misaligned, or even reshape the jawbone. Because the tube has a light, they can easily flush the space and even place medication inside.
- Open-joint surgery: In some cases, your surgeon may recommend an open-joint procedure. Known as an arthrotomy, it involves replacing the joint surgically. It’s usually only advisable in cases where other interventions have failed, or if the primary cause of TMJ disorder is due to a congenital abnormality or trauma to the area.
It’s possible to manage your discomfort at home in some cases. These self-care techniques may bring some relief.
- Dietary changes: Adopt a diet consisting primarily of soft foods, like soups, mashed potatoes, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt, and smoothies, all of which require little to no chewing and keep you full and nourished.
- Compression therapy: Applying a hot or cold compress to the area can help you feel better. Use ice when you need to reduce swelling, or heat when you want to relax and unclench your jaw.
- Habit adjustments: Your everyday habits can affect how you feel, too. Try to break free of biting your nails, chewing your cheeks, and sleeping with your hand on your jaw at night.
- Posture improvements: Studies have found a link between poor posture and TMJ symptoms, largely because hunching over causes your jaw to jut out unnaturally. This stresses the joint and contributes to pain. Standing and sitting straighter could help.
TMJ Treatment at Rosewood Dental
If you’re experiencing TMJ disorder symptoms, you don’t have to face it alone. The experienced team at Rosewood Dental offers comprehensive TMJ disorder treatments tailored to your unique needs, including medication, drug-free solutions, and surgical remedies. Call us at 301-515-2466 to schedule an appointment today.