Treatment options for pain in your jaw joint and in the muscles that control jaw movement can include pain management, medical therapies and surgery.
The temporomandibular (tem-puh-roe-man-DIB-u-lur) joint (TMJ) acts like a sliding hinge, connecting your jawbone to your skull. You have one joint on each side of your jaw. TMJ disorders — a type of temporomandibular disorder or TMD — can cause pain in your jaw joint and in the muscles that control jaw movement.
The exact cause of a person's TMJ disorder is often difficult to determine. Your pain may be due to a combination of factors, such as genetics, arthritis or jaw injury. Some people who have jaw pain also tend to clench or grind their teeth (bruxism), although many people habitually clench or grind their teeth and never develop TMJ disorders.
In most cases, the pain and discomfort associated with TMJ disorders is temporary and can be relieved with self-managed care or nonsurgical treatments. Surgery is typically a last resort after conservative measures have failed, but some people with TMJ disorders may benefit from surgical treatments.
TMJ disorders affect the temporomandibular joint, located on each side of your head in front of your ears. A soft cartilage disk acts as a cushion between the bones of the joint, so the joint can move smoothly.
Signs and symptoms of TMJ disorders may include:
TMJ disorders can also cause a clicking sound or grating sensation when you open your mouth or chew. But if there's no pain or limitation of movement associated with your jaw clicking, you probably don't need treatment for a TMJ disorder.
Seek medical attention if you have persistent pain or tenderness in your jaw, or if you can't open or close your jaw completely. Your doctor, your dentist or a TMJ specialist can discuss possible causes and treatments for your problem.
The temporomandibular joint combines a hinge action with sliding motions. The parts of the bones that interact in the joint are covered with cartilage and are separated by a small shock-absorbing disk, which normally keeps the movement smooth.
Painful TMJ disorders can occur if:
In many cases, however, the cause of TMJ disorders isn't clear.
Factors that may increase the risk of developing TMJ disorders include:
Your doctor or dentist will discuss your symptoms and examine your jaw. He or she will probably:
If your doctor or dentist suspects a problem, you may need:
TMJ arthroscopy is sometimes used in the diagnosis of a TMJ disorder. During TMJ arthroscopy, your doctor inserts a small thin tube (cannula) into the joint space, and a small camera (arthroscope) is then inserted to view the area and to help determine a diagnosis.
In some cases, the symptoms of TMJ disorders may go away without treatment. If your symptoms persist, your doctor may recommend a variety of treatment options, often more than one to be done at the same time.
Along with other nonsurgical treatments, these medication options may help relieve the pain associated with TMJ disorders:
Nondrug therapies for TMJ disorders include:
When other methods don't help, your doctor might suggest procedures such as:
If your doctor recommends surgery or other procedures, be sure to discuss the potential benefits and risks, and ask what all your options are.
With arthrocentesis, tiny openings are inserted into the TMJ so that fluid can be flushed through the joint to remove debris.
Becoming more aware of tension-related habits — clenching your jaw, grinding your teeth or chewing pencils — will help you reduce their frequency. The following tips may help you reduce symptoms of TMJ disorders:
Complementary and alternative medicine techniques may help manage the chronic pain often associated with TMJ disorders. Examples include:
You'll probably first talk about your TMJ symptoms with your family doctor or dentist. If suggested treatments don't provide enough relief, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in TMJ disorders.
You may want to prepare a list that answers the following questions:
Your doctor may ask some of the following questions:
Your doctor or dentist will ask additional questions based on your responses, symptoms and needs. Preparing and anticipating questions will help you make the most of your time.