You may take your jaw mobility for granted if it doesn’t cause any problems. But if you suffer pain and problems chewing because the sliding hinge of your jaw doesn’t work right, it’s a big deal very quickly. Most cases of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder are minor and short-lived, but when the pain interferes with your daily living, call Dr. Matthew Gemp, doctor of medical dentistry in Houston.
The temporomandibular joints connect the jaw to your skull. A cushioning disc protects each joint from bone-on-bone contact. When you have problems with your TMJ, you may feel grinding sensations combined with a clicking sound as you chew or open your mouth. This may be accompanied by:
Many cases of this type, called TMJ disorder, are short-lived and don’t require attention by Dr. Gemp. However, there are times when the symptoms associated with the disorder, also known as TMD or more commonly as simply TMJ, do require his intervention. Call for an appointment if you experience persistent tenderness or pain in your jaw, or when you have difficulty with the normal motion of your mouth.
Precise causes of TMJ disorder are sometimes hard to determine, though common causes include:
In many cases, the precipitating cause isn’t known. You may be more at risk of developing TMJ if you have arthritis symptoms elsewhere in your body. Some diseases of connective tissue may also be a culprit, and if you’re prone to clenching or grinding your teeth, you’re at greater risk.
If your case of TMJ is minor, you may be able to control discomfort with over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatories. More severe cases may require prescription medication, which Dr. Gemp will suggest when necessary. Muscle relaxants and certain antidepressants may also prove effective against pain.
Non-drug therapies include occlusion appliances. These are mouthguards or oral splints that fit over your teeth. Why these devices work isn’t fully understood, though it may be because the restricted motion of your jaw aids natural healing. Physical therapy techniques, such as hot and cold compresses, ultrasound, and strengthening exercises may relieve your discomfort and prevent recurrence.
Last-resort measures may include dental restorations or alterations of tooth alignment, such as through orthodontics. Injectables such as cortisone or botulinum toxin are sometimes beneficial, as is a flushing of the TMJ, a process called lavage. Surgery is rarely necessary, as more conservative techniques usually restore your normal jaw function.