Temporomandibular disorders are a set of conditions affecting the joints, tissues, and muscles of the jaw and face. At its most severe, the condition can cause significant pain and impact a person’s ability to chew, speak, swallow, or even smile. Approximately 35 million Americans have some form of temporomandibular disorder, including TMJ. The majority of patients undergoing treatment are women still in their childbearing years.
Temporomandibular disorders are complex and may be due to a number of different causes including:
• Injuries to the jaw
• Autoimmune diseases
• Prolonged opening of the mouth during surgeries or dental procedures
It is also believed that genetic, environmental, and hormonal factors may play a role in the development of TMJ and other temporomandibular disorders.
Conservative Treatments Often Work Best:
In many cases, TMJ symptoms are mild or episodic and often resolve within a few weeks or months with simple self-help measures, including:
• Moist heat from a hot water bottle or heat pack can help relax jaw muscles and alleviate TMJ pain. It is important to wrap the heated items in a moist towel and to double check their temperature to ensure that they are not hot enough to cause burns.
• Cold therapy, such as an ice pack, can temporarily relieve pain and reduce inflammation. You should wrap the ice pack in a clean towel or cloth, and only use the pack for 10 to 15 minutes at a time to avoid a frostbite-type injury.
• Over-the-counter medications, including ibuprofen, can decrease inflammation and relieve jaw pain. If the pain persists, your doctor or dentist may be able to prescribe stronger medications to ease your pain.
• Temporarily changing your diet to soft or blended foods can give your jaw a chance to rest and recover. You should also avoid hard, chewy, or crunchy foods and foods that require you to open your mouth especially wide that can exacerbate your symptoms.
“If your TMJ pain persists after attempting these self-help measures, your dentist may be able to recommend reversible, non-aggressive treatments that do not permanently change the position or structures of the teeth and jaw,” said Dr. Frank Skiba DDS. Irreversible treatments, including surgery, joint replacement and implants, and treatments designed to permanently alter the positioning or structure of the teeth and jaw are not proven to be effective in treating TMJ pain and may even exacerbate the problem.
TMJ May Overlap with Other Conditions:
Roughly 85 percent of TMJ patients also suffer painful conditions elsewhere in the body. Comorbid conditions often seen in patients with TMJ include:
• Chronic headaches
• Chronic fatigue syndrome
• Lower back pain
• Irritable bowel syndrome
• Interstitial cystitis
Although the reason for this overlap is unclear, the conditions co-exist together more often than can be attributed to chance. Research is underway to try to determine the common denominator between these conditions.
New Treatments May Be On the Horizon:
Botox®, a drug made from the same botulinum toxin that causes food poisoning, has been used for years in cosmetic procedures and is also approved for treating health conditions like migraines and overactive bladder. Clinical studies and research are ongoing to determine the effectiveness of Botox® in treating TMJ pain. Researchers specifically want to explore how Botox® affects the nerves and muscles of the jaw.
According to the National Center for Dental and Craniofacial Research (NCDCR), treatment for TMJ should be conservative, reversible, and customized to your diagnosis and needs. The NCDCR recommends getting a second opinion before considering any irreversible treatment for TMJ. Cases involving severe and persistent pain or jaw dysfunction may require an interdisciplinary team involving rheumatologists, neurologists, and pain management specialists to diagnose and treat the condition.