With so many people experiencing pain from temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder – an estimated 10 million, according to the NIH – it’s no wonder there are so many treatment options, too. Here are some of the most common, as well as a brief look at how we approach TMD in our practices.
Common Treatments for TMJ Disorder
There are many different treatment avenues to address problems with the jaw joint, all with varying levels of efficacy.
- Medication. Anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, and other medications may be prescribed. While they are helpful for reducing pain in the short-term, they are not an ideal long-term solution as they don’t do anything to fix the underlying problem.
- Behavior modification. Some habits can exacerbate TMD pain, such as constant clenching of the jaw, grinding, or chewing gum. By eliminating these bad habits, the pain can be reduced, but the underlying problem will remain.
- Massage. Massage around the jaw joint can relieve pain and help relax the muscles surrounding the joint, but it is not a primary treatment option to fix the joint.
- Physical therapy. Physical therapy can help improve range of motion and alleviate stress on the joint. Incorporating these exercises is a free and simple way to help relieve pain and improve function.
- Orthodontics and oral appliances. This approach addresses the underlying problem, which is often a bad bite leading to dysfunction of the jaw joint. This is our approach; see below for more details.
- Surgery. Several surgery options exist, from less invasive outpatient procedures to invasive inpatient procedures with higher risk and long recovery time. As with all surgery, there are risks, and this is typically a last resort option after other treatments have failed to work.
How We Treat TMJ Problems
At our clinics, we treat TMD in two phases. In Phase I, which Lynn specializes in, oral appliances are made – one for daytime, one for nighttime – that stabilize the joint when worn. This allows the surrounding muscles and ligaments to relax and heal and the bones to regenerate in the proper position, all while leading to a reduction in inflammation. The appliances are worn day and night for 10-12 weeks, followed by 4 weeks of weaning. For many patients, this is all the treatment they need.
For patients who do need Phase II treatment, they see Ed. This phase involves moving the teeth and/or reshaping the mouth and can be done in a variety of ways, depending on the patient’s needs. Expanders, Damon (self-ligating) braces, traction appliances, and expanders are some of the tools we use in this phase.
We are also big proponents of complementary approaches such as chiropractic and physical therapy.
Treating Your TMJ Pain
If you have problems with your jaw joint, don’t give up hope. As you can see, there are many approaches to help relieve pain and improve the function of the joint. If simple therapies haven’t worked, consider talking to a dentist or orthodontist who specializes in treating TMD.