What is this condition?

The temporomandibular joint is a rotating and sliding joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull and can be found on both sides of the jaw. Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) are a group of conditions that causes pain and discomfort in the jaw joint and the muscles that control jaw movements. The cause for TMD is multifactorial, including, but not limited to, prolonged stress to the jaw joint, jaw trauma, arthritis, and parafunctional habits such as nocturnal bruxism and clenching. 

Why should I seek treatment?

Symptoms of TMJ include:

  • Pain or tenderness in the jaw joints or surrounding regions at rest or during function
  • Locking of the jaw joints causes difficulty in opening or closing the mouth
  • Aching pain in and around the ears

Some patients may present with clicking sounds and crepitations in the jaw joint, but if these are not causing pain and limited mouth opening, treatment is usually not required.

You should consult a dentist if you experience persistent pain and discomfort in the jaw joints or if your jaw gets locked (either unable to open or close your jaw completely).

What are the treatment options?

In most TMD cases, the pain and discomfort tend to be temporary and can be relieved with conservative non-surgical measures such as medications and self-managed care (soft diet for 2 weeks, limiting excessive mouth opening, hot or cold compress, massage of the affected area, physiotherapy). Splint therapy (nightguard) may also be fabricated to help manage the TMD in suitable patients. Mild cases of TMD with no functional issues usually do not need to be treated.

Surgery may be indicated for patients who do not respond well to conservative treatment and have symptoms such as significantly limited mouth opening and severe pain. Surgical treatment may range from a joint wash-out (arthrocentesis), insertion of a small scope into the joint space for examination and treatment (arthroscopy), or open joint surgery for more severe cases.

Discuss with your surgeon to decide which treatment is best for you.