The temporomandibular joints are some of the hardest working joints of the body. These two hinge joints, which attach the lower jaw to the skull, are involved in talking, singing, yawning, chewing, swallowing, and more. Inevitably, they get quite a workout. What happens when something goes wrong with one or both of them? Any dysfunction of the TMJ is called a TMJ disorder or temporomandibular joint disorder. Here comes the important question: Is TMJ permanent?
As the Cleveland Clinic reports, symptoms of TMJ can include jaw pain on one side or on both sides that can extend to the face, ears, neck, head, and shoulders. You may hear a clicking noise or experience tinnitus (ringing in the ears). You might also have difficulty opening or closing your jaw. In fact, you may have trouble with your jaw locking or sticking. You may also find yourself dealing with facial swelling and jaw muscle tension. If you're battling this painful condition, it's only natural to wonder: Is there a permanent cure for TMJ?
Is TMJ Permanent?
There is good news for people battling TMJ disorders. TMJ dysfunction doesn't have to be a permanent problem. It can be cured. The trick to finding a cure is to treat not just the symptoms but also the underlying cause of the disorder.
Temporomandibular joint dysfunction is also known as TMJ syndrome and TMD. It can be a painful condition, and for those who haven't yet found a cure, it can be a source of chronic pain. In addition to painful symptoms, untreated TMD can lead to broken or cracked teeth and other dental issues which may require corrective surgeries. As MedicineNet reports, there are several TMJ treatments that won't cure TMJ disorder but may help relieve the discomfort that it causes:
- Applying ice or a cold pack to the jaw.
- Eating soft foods.
- Avoiding chewing gum and sticky foods.
- Performing jaw exercises.
- Massages and other stress reduction techniques.
- Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or other pain medications.
These treatments may not provide a permanent fix. However, they can help manage your TMJ pain while you search for answers with a dental professional who will have more health information regarding your TMJ.
The Path to a Cure for a TMJ Disorder
When you are searching for pain relief and a cure for any health condition, the first step is getting a correct diagnosis. As the University of Michigan Health indicates, there's no single definitive test for TMJ disorder. Being diagnosed with this condition generally involves undergoing a physical exam to determine the state of your oral health and answering questions about your dental history. In some cases, an imaging test like an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI may be requested to provide a deeper look at the tissues that are often damaged by TMJ disorder.
As WebMD explains, health care professionals aren't completely sure what causes TMJ disorder. However, there are certain solutions in dentistry that dentists and doctors know that can trigger this painful condition:
- Injury to your jaw, the TMJ joint, or the muscles of your head and neck.
- Arthritis or other joint diseases in the TMJ joint.
- Displacement of the articular disc that cushions the TMJ.
- Anatomic problems within the TMJ.
Treating TMJ Disorder
Ultimately, the right treatment for TMJ pain will depend on your specific situation. Factors to consider include both the severity and the underlying cause of your TMD. Generally, health care providers tend to recommend the most conservative treatment that will be effective for the patient.
In some mild cases, TMJ disorder resolves on its own, and no medical intervention is necessary. As the Mayo Clinic reports, there are several treatment options to cure TMJ disorder:
- Night guard:
Wearing a mouthguard or oral splint can help protect against harmful teeth grinding and jaw clenching. Acting as a physical barrier between the upper and lower teeth, a TMJ mouth guard shields the teeth and can encourage the jaw muscles to relax. Custom night guards offer a better fit and higher durability, so they're more comfortable and tend to last longer than generic over-the-counter alternatives. There are different kinds of TMJ splints for varying levels of severity. Speak with a dental professional to decide which night guard will work best for you.
- Physical Therapy:
Physical therapists can develop personalized programs that stretch, strengthen, and rebalance the jaw muscles. Specific tongue and jaw movements can help relax the muscles. Ice, moist heat, and ultrasound treatments may also be included.
Educating patients about factors that aggravate their pain and how to avoid them can be empowering. This is useful in cases where teeth grinding or jaw clenching is an emotional response to stress, anxiety, etc. Discussions may focus on dealing with issues like teeth grinding, biting fingernails, posture, or stress.
An acupuncturist inserts thin needles into targeted acupoints to stimulate nerves and other tissues to improve well-being. Acupuncture is known to reduce pain and inflammation and promote healing by improving blood flow to a desired area.
- Botox Injections:
Botox injections for TMJ can be used to temporarily weaken the muscles responsible for clenching and grinding. Forcing the muscles to relax gives the surrounding tissues time to rest and recover.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be used short-term for pain management. An example of an NSAID is ibuprofen.
TMJ surgery is called TMJ arthroscopy. Typically, surgery is a last resort for TMJ patients, so this would normally be tried only if other options had failed to provide relief. This is a more invasive procedure than other treatment options. Surgery is generally only used for severe cases such as jaw dislocation or inability to close the mouth.
Treating TMJ Permanently
Treating TMJ disorder can be tricky. Dealing with jaw joint pain, muscle soreness, facial pain, toothaches, headaches, and ear pain daily is exhausting and can affect your quality of life. Curing this condition requires addressing both its painful symptoms and the underlying cause of the disorder. To answer this question “Is TMJ Permanent?”, it should be considered that the treatment for TMJ varies based on the severity of your disorder. It is important to have open discussions with your dentist about your TMJ to find the best solution for you.
- Cleveland Clinic Writing Staff. (2021). Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) Disorders: Symptoms, Treatment & prevention. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15066-temporomandibular-disorders-tmd-overview
- Cunha, J. P. (2021). 14 Best Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome (TMJ) Treatments. MedicineNet. https://www.medicinenet.com/temporomandibular_joint_syndrome_tmj/article.htm
- Friedman, M. (2019). Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMJ & TMD). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/temporomandibular-disorders-tmd
- Healthwise Staff. (2020). Temporomandibular disorders (TMD). University of Michigan Health System (UMHS). https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hw209469
- Mayo Clinic Writing Staff. (2018). Tmj disorders. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tmj/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350945