Ask a Dentist: What Types of Treatments are Available for TMJ?
Temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ, is the common name for a condition affecting the joint that attaches the lower jaw to the skull that can cause pain in the joint, muscles, and nerves around that area. The condition may arise from a variety of causes, including injuries to the neck, back, or jaw. A dentist may use a number of methods to repair the injured joint or manage the resulting pain. Some cases of TMJ can be treated at home, but professional treatment is often required.
What is TMJ?
Properly called TMD (temporomandibular disorder), this is a painful condition affecting the jaw or the joint that attaches the jaw to the skull. Medical experts are not always sure what causes the condition, though it probably comes from issues with the joint or the muscle tissue around the joint. Better understood are various jaw, neck, and head injuries that can cause chronic pain in that part of the jaw. Whiplash is one concrete example of an injury that cause pain at the joint where lower jaw and skull meet.
How is TMJ diagnosed?
Because many of the symptoms can have other causes, to diagnose it, the dentist does a physical exam and asks health questions. Those two procedures can help eliminate sinus problems, arthritis, and gum disease as potential sources of the pain. Once the dentist identifies temporomandibular joint disorder as a likely problem, one or two additional tests can confirm the diagnosis. Imaging tests are standard, as X-rays, MRI scans, and CT scans can provide information that a simple physical exam cannot.
What are the standard treatments?
TIf a patient has TMJ, a dentist can try one of several treatments. Medication, dental work, mouth guards, and surgery are common. At-home treatments may also be prescribed. Home treatment options include hot and cold packs to reduce swelling and pain. Patients may also be advised to eat mostly soft foods like rice and oatmeal or take over-the-counter pain medication.
Electrical and injection therapies
A dentist may also treat TMJ with laser, sound, or electric therapy. Low-powered lasers, ultrasound, and radio waves can all be used to ease pain, reduce swelling, or restore mobility to the jaw. The dentist may also inject pain medication directly into facial muscles to give quick pain relief. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) uses a weak electric current to relax the muscles and relieve pain. A TMJ suffer may apply this treatment at home or have it done at the dentist's office.
Surgery can be an option if treatments like dental work and TENS fail to solve the problem. These are three possible surgical solutions that treat the joint and nearby bone in different ways:
- Open-joint surgery
Temporomandibular joint disorder can be treated in a variety of ways after a careful evaluation by a dentist. The dentist evaluates a potential TMJ case with health questions, a physical exam, and imaging to determine the condition of the jaw and recommend a treatment.
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