TMJ Disorders: More Common Than You Think

 

The American Dental Association reports that 15% of Americans are affected by Temporomandibular Joint Disorder. The Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) is a small joint located in front of the ear on each side of the head and allows the lower jaw to move and function. Each joint works in close collaboration together and with ligaments, muscles, and cartilage to allow for activities such as chewing, talking and swallowing.

TMJ disorders are relatively common, and most patients experience symptoms such as earaches, headaches, jaw clicking, and limitations in jaw opening and range of motion. TMJ disorders can occur when there are disturbances or disruptions in the normal anatomy or physiology of the bones, muscles, ligaments, or cartilage involved in the functional temporomandibular joint complex. Causes of TMJ disorders can include teeth grinding or clenching, stress, trauma, arthritis, dislocation, or jaw misalignment.

Proper evaluation and diagnosis are very critical in treatment. Like most health problems, early detection is essential. Often, patients are referred to an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon by their dentist or physician for assessment of a potential TMJ disorder. After examination and x-rays, further specialty imaging (CT scan or MRI) may be suggested for further investigation. Most patients improve with nonsurgical treatment. These recommendations can include eating a soft diet, taking short term nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, splint therapy, stress management, and physical therapy. In severe cases of teeth grinding, Botox treatment has assisted patients by slightly weakening their clenching muscles leading to a significant decrease in the intensity of teeth grinding. As a result, there is less stress and pain on these muscles.

When nonsurgical treatment is unsuccessful or if there is significant damage to the joint, surgical intervention may be indicated. Surgery can involve an open joint surgery or an arthroscopy (a minimally invasive procedure performed with utilization of a camera and small instruments).

No one treatment can resolve TMJ disorders completely, and treatment takes adequate time to be effective. East Georgia Center for Oral and Facial Surgery can help you have a healthier and more comfortable jaw.

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