TMJ disorders are conditions characterized by pain or dysfunction related to the temporomandibular joint, which is the joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull and enables jaw movement. They occur when the joints of the jaw and their surrounding muscles are not working together properly, a problem that can be the result of a number of underlying issues. TMJ disorders can be treated, and early treatment is best to avoid the development of more serious problems.
TMJ disorders can develop for a variety of reasons. They may occur in response to chronic teeth clenching or grinding, which tightens the jaw muscles and stresses the joint. Damage to the joint or adjacent muscles and/or ligaments caused by jaw injury or disease can be the source of TMJ disorders, as can arthritis. In many cases, TMJ disorders stem from a combination of these causes, while in others, causes remain unclear. Whatever the cause in a particular case may be, the result is often pain, stiffness and discomfort in the jaw area or face, clicking, popping or grinding noises as the jaw joint is in motion, chronic headaches, bite misalignment, trouble chewing and/or reduced range of motion in the jaw, making it difficult to open the mouth fully.
Patients who have jaw pain, especially if it chronic or recurrent, or other symptoms of TMJ disorders should be evaluated by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon as soon as possible. However, they can ask themselves the following questions to aid in defining their symptoms:
The more “yes” answers there are to those question, the more likely it is that a TMJ disorder is present.
Once a patient has been evaluated and a TMJ disorder has been confirmed, Dr. Arroyo can offer can number of treatment options to ease pain and discomfort and improve jaw function. These may include oral medications, such as pain relievers, anti-inflammatories or muscle relaxants, steroid injections, physical therapy, biofeedback and dental appliances, among many others, depending upon the particular circumstances and preferences of each patient.
In a small percentage of cases, surgery may be recommended. In patients in whom TMJ disorder has caused bite problems, treatments such as bite adjustment surgeries, orthodontics and/or jaw reconstruction, or dental restoration work might be necessary. In very severe cases in which the jaw is severely degenerated, cannot open, or is dislocated and non-reducible, joint repair procedures may be recommended.
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