The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is located where the lower jaw hinges onto the skull base and provides the jaw with a full range of motion. It is a complex joint, and TMJ disorder refers to issues affecting this joint.
TMJ disorder can cause pain and difficulty moving the lower jaw and is a relatively common problem. Around 10% of people will be affected by TMJ disorders at some point during their life.
The symptoms depend on the severity of the problem but most likely cause jaw pain that can spread to the face and neck. The jaw muscles may feel stiff and difficult to move. When the jaw does move, it can make a clicking or popping sound. The disorder can also cause changes to the way the upper and lower teeth are aligned.
The condition can be caused due to degeneration of the jaw joint or trauma due to an injury. Degenerative disorders like arthritis can affect the temporomandibular joint. The disorder often occurs because a patient clenches and grinds their teeth, a condition called bruxism, frequently linked to stress.
When patients visit our clinic with jaw pain, we review their medical history and discuss their symptoms before gently examining the temporomandibular joint and surrounding area. Our oral surgeon can evaluate the range of movement of the jaw and check the patient’s jaw alignment, assessing how their teeth bite together. We may need to perform various diagnostic tests, including x-rays, to help diagnose the problem more fully.
The next stage is to consider an effective treatment plan. Usually, we prefer to try non-surgical treatments before suggesting surgery.
The most conservative treatment approach uses several techniques, such as diet modification. The patient avoids eating anything that is very hard and uses hot and cold packs to relieve the jaw pain and stiffness. Another approach is stress management, medication and possibly prosthodontic treatment to correct any bite issues. When bruxism is diagnosed, the patient may be prescribed a custom bite splint worn during sleep to reduce the stress placed on the jaw joints.
Surgical treatment is usually performed when other more conservative approaches have failed to relieve chronic pain and jaw dysfunction. Options may include cleaning the jaw joint to remove inflammation and improve the patient’s comfort. In severe cases, it may be necessary to replace the jaw joint entirely with a prosthesis.