If you've noticed that your jaw clicks, locks, or causes pain and headaches, you could have a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is supposed to glide effortlessly like a hinge when you open and close your mouth. However, this joint can become displaced or inflamed and cause TMD. Read on to learn more about common causes, treatments, and when to consider surgery.
What causes TMD?
There are all sorts of things that can cause TMD. For instance, if you grind your teeth, you not only put undue pressure on your enamel, but you can stress that joint. People with malocclusions that aren't treated by orthodontics can also have TMD; the misaligned teeth cause a chain reaction of misalignment in the jaw bones and, of course, the joints.
Other causes of TMD can include things like:
- Poor posture
- Chronic stress
- Chewing gum
- Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
- Diseases that affect connective tissues
Are there less invasive ways to deal with TMD before surgery?
Yes, there are. It's important to seek out an oral surgeon so he or she can set you on the right treatment plan. For example, an oral surgeon or a dentist could set you up with oral splints. These look a lot like a mouth guard, except they are designed to take pressure off the joint and let your jaws rest. If your TMD is caused because of grinding, these splints can help with that as well.
Besides splints, your oral surgeon may recommend things like:
- Muscle relaxants
- Orthodontic treatment
- Physical therapy
If the TMD is incredibly painful and ruining everyday functions, you may want to consider surgery. For instance, some people have such bad TMD that they cannot even open their mouths fully to reach molars for brushing and flossing.
What Kinds of Oral Surgery Can Help?
While surgery is invasive, getting a better quality of life could outweigh the downsides. Here are just two procedures that could help:
Arthroscopic surgery is used for all sorts of bodily sites—like shoulders and knees. During this surgery, the oral surgeon will make a small incision in the jaw and insert a lighting system and camera so that he or she can operate without creating a large incision.
During the surgery, he or she may fix misaligned joints and discs. He or she may also excise inflamed or infected tissue.
A condylotomy is more invasive since it is essentially a controlled fracture to the jaw bone. However, if the articular discs above the condyle keep becoming displaced or stuck, this surgery can help to relieve that problem. During this procedure, the surgeon can also graft cartilage to repair any painful bone-to-bone contact you may have been having.
You don't have to deal with TMJ pain forever. Contact an oral surgeon or other dentistry professional in your area to see how you can fix this problem.