This article offers an overview of temporomandibular joint disorder, and when you should seek a TMJ specialist for treatment. Read on to learn more. The temporomandibular joint, located on each side of your head near the lower jaw line in front of your ears, allows you to talk, chew and yawn. TMJ disorder can cause your jaw to feel tender or painful and make it hard for you to open and close your mouth fully. There are several root causes for TMJ disorder including age, gender, pre existing conditions and even birth defects.
Anyone can get TMJ, but women in their thirties to fifties are more prone to TMJ than their male counterparts. People who were born with a jaw defect are also more prone to suffering later in life from TMJ disorder. It also occurs more often in people with certain pre existing medical conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome or sleep disorders.
The symptoms of this disorder include pain or tenderness, aching around your ears, difficulty chewing, headaches and difficulty opening or closing your mouth. For many people the symptoms go away on their own or they can control the discomfort by self medicating.
However, if your symptoms are not going away or getting better your first stop should be your dentist, who may be able to treat your symptoms with corrective dental treatments including replacing caps, crowns or fillings that are old or missing that may be affecting how you bite which can cause TMJ symptoms. Or your dentist may refer you to a TMJ doctor who specializes in this disorder to help treat you.
A TMJ doctor will probably do several things to assess your condition including take x-rays, a CT scan or an MRI — depending on how extensive the problem is — so they can make an accurate assessment of your jaw. From there, your TMJ doctor may recommend several options to help alleviate your symptoms including medication, dental intervention if it already has not been attempted, or more rarely surgery.
There are several different types of medicine your TMJ doctor may prescribe including pain medication, anti depressants, muscle relaxers, cortisone shots, and even BOTOX. What your doctor prescribes will greatly depend on your symptoms and the root cause. For example, some patients grind their teeth because of stress and aggravate their TMJ condition. Antidepressants and cognitive therapy may work together to help a patient such as this find relief from their symptoms and help them to stop their disorder at the root level.
For other patients a dental intervention may be more appropriate, such as the use of a bite guard or replacing missing caps or fillings to help correct a bite pattern that is leading to the problem.
Surgery is a rare option and one that is generally not recommended. However in some instances surgery to either repair or replace the temporomandibular joint may be the only option left if your disorder has not responded to any other treatment and your pain is severe enough.