Finding Relief from Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ/TMD)

Finding Relief from Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ/TMD)

Oct 01, 2019

Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction or disorder (TMJ/TMD) is a complex symptom caused by various factors. TMD is a common disorder affecting about 33% of the adult population mostly people between 20 and 40 years, and it is more common in women than men.

TMD cause is unknown but is believed to be caused by a combination of factors ranging from arthritis, jaw injury, and even genetics.

TMJ discomfort and pain is temporary and can be self-managed. However, in severe situations, a surgical procedure done by a dentist can rectify the problem.

TMD is routinely managed by dentists and medical practitioners. However, the disorder may be effectively managed when physical therapists are involved in the treatment.

What is TMD/TMJ?

TMD/TMJ is a musculoskeletal disorder affecting the jaw, muscles, and joints of the masticatory system– involved in chewing, swallowing and speaking.

Although many dentists refer to TMD as a single disorder, it is often characterized by various sub-diagnosis like inflammation, myofascial pain, etc.

The temporomandibular joint connects the jaw to the skull and is composed of blood vessels, nerves, muscles, and bones. We have two joints one on each jaw.

TMD is classified into different categories based on pain and severity;

  • Myofascial pain characterized by discomfort in the muscles
  • Arthritis; an inflammatory and degenerative joint disorder that affects the temporomandibular joint
  • Internal derangement of the joint which involves a dislocated jaw or displaced disc

TMD Causes

Temporomandibular disorder causes are complex and multifactorial;

  • Bruxism, excessive grinding, and clenching of teeth can occur while you are awake or asleep. The cause is not known and the relationship between the grinding of teeth and TMJ is still debated. However, many practitioners suggest that bruxism contributes to TMD pain and discomfort.
  • Psychological factors like anxiety, stress, anger, depression may increase pain and affect skeletal activity.
  • Estrogen imbalance is linked to TMD pain. Studies have suggested that episodes of high pain in the TMJ is correlated with low estrogen
  • Poor nutrition and health


Pain in the muscles and jaw joints is the most common symptom. Other causes include;

  • Pain in the face or neck
  • Stiffness of the jaw muscle
  • Clicking, popping, or grafting in the jaw
  • Swelling and tired feeling in the face

TMD/TMJ Treatment options

Due to its similarities to other musculoskeletal disorders, TMD treatments are often similar to those used in joint and muscle disorders.

TMD symptoms may disappear without treatment. However, in severe cases, our dentist may recommend multiple treatments including:

  • Medications

Some treatment options include pain relievers anti-inflammatory tablets, antidepressants, and muscle relaxants to reduce pain caused by muscle spasm.

  • Oral splints

Oral splints are great for people with severe jaw pain. Plus, you can use mouth guards that help to keep the jaw firm and aligned. The splints also prevent teeth grinding and clenching.

  • Physical therapy

Certain exercises can help to stretch and strengthen jaw muscles. Exercises like chin tuck, jaw exercises, side-to-side jaw movement, and forward jaw exercises will go a long way to ease the pain.

However, don’t stretch or exercise if you are in severe pain.

  • Arthrocentesis

Our dentist performs this minimally invasive procedure for patients with arthritis. Arthrocentesis involves the insertion of a syringe to the joint to remove synovial fluid and debris that causes inflammation of the joint.

Modified condylotomy

This procedure can indirectly treat TMD as the surgery is done on the mandible and not the joint. The purpose of this surgical procedure is to increase joint space.

Although modified condylotomy can ease the TMD discomfort, it has proven ineffective in addressing disorders like osteoarthritis, synovitis chondromatosis.

Furthermore, after the procedure, you will need an arch-bar and healing can last between 10 days and six weeks.

Hot and cold therapy

Heat and cold therapies do not treat TMD symptoms, but, they help in reducing joint pain and aches.

Using moist hot pack on the facial, neck, and temple muscles will stimulate blood circulation, relieve pain and stiffness.


Massage therapy targets trigger points and masseter muscles used for chewing. Pressure applied to these points can reduce jaw stiffness.


Acupuncture therapy is used often to treat TMD. The exact mechanism of how the procedure relieves TMJ symptoms is unknown, but it is believed that this traditional Chinese medicine reduces pain by balancing the energy. Acupuncture is performed by inserting thin needles on the jaw and other specific locations on the body.


Biofeedback of TMJ is effective as it monitors the tightness of the jaw muscles using electric devices. This technique helps in muscle relaxation.

The Bottom Line

TMJ disorder disappears on their own, and any of the above-mentioned treatments can help relieve the pain and discomfort.

Are you ready to address TMD/TMJ? Get in touch with us. At Houston general dentistry we are ready to help you choose the right treatment based on the severity of the TMJ disorder.

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