If you are among the estimated 10 million Americans who suffer from chronic jaw pain and swelling from TMJ, you are all aware that getting a TMJ diagnosis can be frustrating and challenging at best. The common symptoms like jaw pain, earaches, headaches, or neck pain can be chalked up to a number of other unrelated conditions.
While finding a single root cause of the painful condition can be equally disappointing, fortunately, there are suitable treatments for muscular TMJ pain that can address the symptoms and relieve you, says Jose Marcano, DMD, here at Orlando Center for Cosmetic Dentistry. In this blog, Dr. Marcano explains TMJ and three treatments to help you manage the pain.
What is the temporomandibular joint?
A great place to start this conversation is to take a look at the anatomy and function of the jaw as it pertains to the temporomandibular joint or TMJ. You actually have two temporomandibular joints. The joints are located in front of each ear and connect the mandible or lower jaw to the temporal bone at the side of the head.
Temporomandibular joints are unique from other joints in the body in two main areas: form and function. A healthy temporomandibular joint produces complex motions like a hinge to open and close the jaw and sliding motions to complete actions yawning, chewing, speaking, chewing, and swallowing. Not surprisingly, the complex nature of the joints' movements requires their makeup to differ from other load-bearing joints like the knee or hips.
Specifically, temporomandibular joints create carefully choreographed movement using a particular type of dense tissue called fibrocartilage, which doesn’t contain blood vessels, and a disc, which separates the joint into two sections.
TMJ or TMD disorders explained
The medical terminology used to define issues with the temporomandibular joint can be confusing. TMJ or TMD, which stands for temporomandibular disorders, is defined as any disruption of proper movement of the temporomandibular joint. However, it’s a catchall umbrella for the 30-plus issues that may result in dysfunction and pain in the temporomandibular joint or muscles controlling movement in the jaw.
Treatment options for managing TMJ pain
For many TMJ sufferers, pain is temporary, requiring non-invasive treatment options. Treatment options typically focus on addressing symptoms like inflammation, which contributes to the pain, and possible mitigating factors like bruxism or teeth grinding.
1. OTC drugs and prescription medications
In mild cases of TMJ, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs or prescription medications can help relieve the pain. Acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen can address swelling and inflammation, which can lead to TMJ pain. For more severe TMJ pain, your dentist or health care provider may recommend muscle relaxers particularly if your TMJ symptoms are accompanied by bruxism. Some doctors may recommend antidepressants since these drugs impact how your body interprets pain.
When considering medication to address your TMJ pain, make sure your doctor has a complete history of the medications, supplements, and any homeopathic products that you currently use.
If you are among the estimated 30 million to 40 million children and adults in the United States who grind their teeth or excessively clench their jaw, your dentist may recommend an oral appliance like a mouth guard.
Mouth guards, sometimes called night guards are often the go-to for people who unconsciously grind their teeth while they’re sleeping. Night guards can prevent you from grinding your teeth, mitigating TMJ pain.
3. Laser therapy
Another treatment for muscular TMJ pain harnesses laser light energy. Our own Dr. Marcano is specially trained in laser dentistry for various services, including treatments for TMJ pain. It works because Dr. Marcano uses a hand-held laser device, which emits highly targeted light energy that can treat hard and soft tissue.
In the case of TMJ, laser light energy has a two-fold benefit – precision and penetration. The hand-held device pinpoints the treatment area and then penetrates deep into the skin to reach affected ligaments and muscles to relieve inflammation and TMJ pain. Clinical research suggests that the benefits don’t stop there though. Laser therapy for TMJ may also boost tissue repair and natural healing.
Here at Orlando Center for Cosmetic Dentistry, we use the Waterlase™ by Biolase® system, which leverages laser energy augmented by air and water throughout procedures. The air and combination protects patients from the laser's heat, so all they feel during their treatment is a comforting warming sensation.
If you suffer from jaw pain and think you may have TMJ, contact us at Orlando Center For Cosmetic Dentistry to schedule a consultation. Click the online booking tool or call the office today.