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Arthroscopy for Temporomandibular Disorders

For arthroscopic jaw surgery, the surgeon inserts a pencil-thin, lighted tube (arthroscope) into the jaw joint through a small incision in the skin. The arthroscope is connected to a small camera outside the body that transmits a close-up image of the joint to a TV monitor.

The surgeon can insert surgical instruments through the arthroscope to do surgery on the joint, preventing the need for more surgical incisions. This technique is used to diagnose and treat temporomandibular disorders (TMD).

During arthroscopic surgery, the surgeon may:

  • Remove scar tissue and thickened cartilage.
  • Reshape parts of the jawbone.
  • Reposition the disc.
  • Tighten the joint to limit movement.
  • Flush (lavage) the joint.
  • Insert an anti-inflammatory medicine.

Procedures are done under general anesthesia and usually take 30 minutes or longer depending upon the type of procedure.

What To Expect After Surgery

After surgery, you may start physical therapy within 48 hours in order to maintain movement and prevent scar tissue from forming. You may also use a mechanical device that gently moves your jaw joint (continuous passive motion).

Your jaw movement may be limited for at least a month. And you may need to follow a diet of liquid and soft foods.

Why It Is Done

Arthroscopy can also be used to flush out the joint (lavage) or to inject an anti-inflammatory medicine. This can be especially helpful to people who have TMDs caused by rheumatoid arthritis.

Arthroscopy can be used to treat TMDs involving:

  • Joint disease that causes tissue and bone to break down.
  • Scar tissue (adhesions).
  • Cartilage that is too thick.
  • Severe disc problems in the joint.
  • A jaw joint that has loosened over time or after an injury.

This procedure may also be used to diagnose a TMD (diagnostic arthroscopy).

Arthroscopy is not done when there is:

  • Swelling in the jaw that has not been diagnosed.
  • Infection (surgery could cause infection to spread).
  • A tumor near the jaw joint. A procedure such as arthroscopy could cause the tumor to spread (metastasize).
  • Stiffening or fusion of the jawbones (bony ankylosis).
  • An affected joint next to the only ear with which the person can hear (surgery could accidentally damage the ear).
  • Obesity, making the jaw joint difficult to access under the skin and fat.

How Well It Works

Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgery that can effectively treat TMDs. An arthroscopic surgery can effectively treat a TMD with fewer and less severe complications compared with an open-joint surgery.1

Risks

Complications of arthroscopic temporomandibular surgery are uncommon but include:

  • Outer, middle, or inner ear damage.
  • Temporary or permanent hearing loss.
  • Temporary nerve damage.
  • Joint infection.

Any surgical changes to the bone and soft tissue are irreversible and can create new problems in the joint's delicate balance. Scar tissue results from surgery that involves muscles, tendons, and ligaments and is likely to restrict jaw movement to some extent.

What To Think About

When possible, a nonsurgical approach is preferred over surgery, because the treatment is cheaper, safer, noninvasive, and involves less risk of permanent damage.

Current practice trends are to avoid altering disc position or structure. After disc replacement, an adverse reaction to an artificial disc is possible.

If your doctor recommends surgery, experts agree that it is best to get a second opinion.

Temporomandibular Disorder: Should I Have Surgery for Jaw Pain?

Complete the surgery information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this surgery.

Citations

  1. Tucker MR, et al. (2008). Management of temporomandibular disorders. In JR Hupp et al., eds., Contemporary Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, 5th ed., pp. 629–649. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerArden Christen, DDS, MSD, MA, FACD - Dentistry
Last RevisedJanuary 11, 2012

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 11, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

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American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

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