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Dealing with TMJ Disorders

Your treatment options if you have Temporomandibular Disorders

Two Categories of TMD Patients

The large majority of temporomandibular disorders stem from jaw muscle problems that cause pain and tightness. “Luckily, most... are muscle spasm problems,” Messina says.

In contrast, only a small minority of cases stem from problems within the jaw joint itself, he says. These include a disk that moves out of proper position, strained ligaments, osteoarthritis, and other joint-related conditions, Messina says.

“If we’re concerned that there’s an internal problem in the joint itself, the patient may be recommended to have either an MRI or a CAT scan of the joint,” he says.

Nonsurgical Treatments

Fortunately, Messina says, “the vast majority of [TMD] will not require surgical intervention.”

Instead, most patients can try nonsurgical treatments, which don’t cure TMD, but help to relieve pain and improve function. Experts tell WebMD that it’s crucial to try these methods before resorting to surgery or other treatments that result in permanent changes to the jaw or teeth.

Nonsurgical treatments include:

Stabilization or bite splint: This main treatment for jaw muscle pain and tightness involves using a plastic guard that fits over the upper or lower teeth. “It allows the teeth to slide smoothly against each other, which lets the jaw muscles relax,” Messina says. Splinting helps to prevent clenching and grinding of the teeth. Most people wear the splint only at night, but in severe cases, Messina says, “the patient may be wearing the splint 24 hours a day, except when they’re eating.”

Physical therapy: “Physical therapy involves muscle relaxation and increasing the range of motion in the joint,” Messina says. These methods may include biofeedback, stretching exercises, or ultrasound treatments. Applying warm compresses to the side of the face during exercises may be useful, too, Messina says.

Yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and stress management can also help ease symptoms, Messina says. “Stress doesn’t cause [TMD], but it certainly makes it worse,” he says.

Richard Ohrbach, DDS, PhD, is a dentist and a clinical psychologist. Among his treatments for TMD, he teaches some patients relaxation skills to help them cope with pain. “Patients just benefit from learning how to really relax their bodies,” says Ohrbach, who is also an associate professor of oral diagnostic sciences at the University at Buffalo.

Drug therapy: These treatments include anti-inflammatory medications to relieve pain and prescription muscle relaxants. “If there are some severely inflamed muscles that have restricted motion because they’re in spasm -- the muscles are excessively contracted or hyperactive -- we can use some muscle relaxants,” Messina says.

Comparing Nonsurgical and Surgical Treatments

Experts agree that nonsurgical treatments should be tried first -- unless there’s a compelling reason for immediate surgery, such as a tumor in the jaw joint.

Temporomandibular joint surgeries carry risks, Messina says. “Post-surgically, some pain in the joint tends to be fairly common.” Other surgical complications include nerve damage, bleeding, infection, and scarring of the joint.

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

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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

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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