Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome: TMJ Disorder, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

The temporomandibular joint or TMJ is a sliding hinge that connects your jawbone to your skull. We have one joint on each side of our jaw. This hinge is one of the most complex joints in our body that controls the movement of the lower jaw forward, backward, and side-to-side. TMJ disorder is a problem that prevents this system of muscles, ligaments, discs, and bones from functioning properly. Let us discuss the temporomandibular joint syndrome, its symptoms, causes, and treatment.

TMJ

TMJ Symptoms

Try consulting your dentist, ask him to look for a complete medical and dental history, conduct a clinical examination, and make a proper diagnosis. Some of the physical and mental symptoms may include:

  • Headaches
  • Earaches and pain behind the eyes
  • Pain in the temple area
  • Pain around the temporomandibular joint area.
  • Limited jaw movement and tenderness in the jaw muscles
  • Back pain, shoulder pain, and stiffness in the back.
  • Clicking or a popping sound in the temporomandibular joints
  • Locking of the joint that makes it difficult to open or close your mouth properly
  • Difficulty in chewing or pain while chewing
  • A change in the way your upper and lower teeth fit together
  • Dizziness (vertigo)

TMJ Symptoms

TMJ Causes

The exact cause of temporomandibular joint disorder, TMJD, is often difficult to determine, as there are a variety of factors that may be responsible for the disorder. These factors quite frequently overlap with one another. Knowing about the causes and risk factors can help you in understanding how to best deal with your condition.

  • The disc erodes out of its proper alignment
  • The joint’s cartilage is damaged due to arthritis
  • Jolting injury to the head, face or neck

The major risk factors that may contribute to Orofacial pain (pain in the face, head or neck) and temporomandibular joint dysfunction include:

  • Physical injury
  • Emotional stress
  • Changes to your bite
  • Jaw size discrepancy
  • Grinding or clenching your teeth
  • Extensive dental work
  • Asymmetric growth
  • Prolonged illness
  • Arthritis such as rheumatoid and osteoarthritis
  • Weak immune system
  • Nutrition imbalance
  • Developmental disturbances
  • Changes in the hormone levels
  • Low quality sleep

TMJ Treatments

TMJ does not have any single cure. In some cases, the warning signs may go away without any treatment. However, there are different types of treatments you can follow that may help in reducing your symptoms.

Medications

  • Anti-inflammatory Drugs and Pain Relievers: Your dentist may prescribe you some strong pain relievers, if the usual pain –relieving medications are not enough to alleviate your pain. NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen are quite helpful.
  • Tricyclic Antidepressants: Mostly used for treating depressions, but medications like amitriptyline may also provide relief from pain.
  • Muscle Relaxants: In some cases, doctors use these drugs for a few days or weeks to help relieve the pain associated with TMJ disorder.

Therapies

  • Physical Therapy: Ultrasound, moist heat and ice along with a set of exercises to strengthen and stretch the jaw muscles are some of the treatments.

Splint

  • Oral Splints or Mouth Guards (Occlusal Appliances): In some cases, people often find comfort from wearing a soft or firm device that is inserted over their teeth. However, the reason behind this is not clear and well-understood.
  • Education and Counseling: Understanding the signs and the risk factors early may prove to be beneficial.

Surgical and Other Procedures

  • Arthrocentesis: The technique involves the insertion of small needles into the joint to irrigate the fluid and remove debris and inflammatory byproducts.

Arthrocentesis

  • Injections: Corticosteroid injections like botulinum toxin type A (into the jaw muscles) may prove to be useful for relieving joint pain.
  • TMJ arthroscopy: In arthroscopy, the doctor places a cannula, a small thin tube into the joint space. Then an arthroscope is inserted. The surgery uses small instruments.
  • Modified Condylotomy: It involves a surgery on the mandible and not in the joint. The technique is more often adopted when the patient experiences locking.
  • Open-Joint Surgery: An open-joint surgery or arthrotomy is quite helpful in repairing or replacing the joint. However, it involves more risks as compared to the other treatments.

Acupuncture

Apart from this, alternative and complementary techniques such as acupuncture, relaxation techniques like deep breathing, and biofeedback may help in managing the chronic pain associated with TMJ disorder.