Your temporomandibular joint is a hinge that connects your jaw to the temporal bones of your skull, which are in front of each ear. It lets you move your jaw up and down and side to side so you can talk, chew, and yawn. Problems with your jaw and the muscles in your face that control it are known as temporomandibular disorders (TMD). But you may hear it wrongly called TMJ, after the joint.
Common Symptoms include:
- Pain or tenderness in your face, jaw joint area, neck and shoulders, and in or around the ear when you chew, speak, or open your mouth wide
- Jaws that get “stuck” or “locked” in the open- or closed-mouth position
- Clicking, popping, or grating sounds in the jaw joint when you open or close your mouth or chew. This may or may not be painful.
- A tired feeling in your face
- Trouble chewing or a sudden uncomfortable bite, as if the upper and lower teeth are not fitting together properly
- Swelling on the side of your face
Treatment Options for TMD/TMJ:
Medications. Your dentist can prescribe higher doses of anti-inflammatories if you need them for pain and swelling. A muscle relaxer may be suggested to relax your jaw if you grind or clench your teeth; or an anti-anxiety medication to relieve stress, which may bring on TMD. In low doses, they can also help reduce or control pain.
A splint or night guard. These plastic mouthpieces fit over your upper and/or lower teeth so they don’t touch. They lessen the effects of clenching or grinding and correct your bite by putting your teeth in a more correct position. What’s the difference between them? You wear night guards while you sleep. You use a splint all the time. Your dentist will tell you which type you need.
Dental work. Your dentist can replace missing teeth and use crowns, bridges or braces to balance the biting surfaces of your teeth or to correct a bite problem.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). This therapy uses low-level electrical currents to provide pain relief by relaxing your jaw joint and facial muscles. It can be done at the dentist’s office or at home.
Ultrasound. Deep heat applied to the joint can relieve soreness or improve mobility.
Trigger-point injections. Pain medication or anesthesia is injected into tender facial muscles called “trigger points” to give relief.
Radio wave therapy. Radio waves stimulate the joint, which increases blood flow and eases pain.
Low-level laser therapy. This lowers pain and inflammation and helps you move your neck more freely and open your mouth wider.
Talk to your dentist about these treatments for TMD and which are right for you.