Treating temporomandibular disorders

People who grind their teeth can sometimes develop a serious problem with their jaw. Jaw disorders are often symptomatic of a serious problem that, left untreated, can lead to serious problems with your teeth, gums and bone structures of your mouth.

One of the most common jaw disorders is related to a problem with the temporomandibular joint, the joint that connects your lower jaw to your skull, and allows your upper and lower jaw to open and close and facilitates chewing and speaking.

People with temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) often have a clicking or popping sound when open and closing their mouths. Such disorders are often accompanied by frequent headaches, neck aches, and in some cases, tooth sensitivity.

Some treatments for TMD include muscle relaxants, aspirin, biofeedback, or wearing a small plastic appliance in the mouth during sleep.

Minor cases of TMD involve discomfort or pain in the jaw muscles. More serious conditions involve improperly aligned joints or dislocated jaws. The most extreme form of TMD involves an arthritic condition of the jaw joint. Traumatic injuries also can cause jaw dislocation.

Splints, biteplates, or mouth guards are sometimes used to relieve symptoms. Pain can often be relieved with over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory medications.

Corrective TMJ surgery

Corrective TMJ surgery is an option in patients who have chronic, disabling pain and/or need to restore the normal function of their jaw. It is normally only called for if other treatments have failed, or certain jaw structural problems, including displaced discs, need to be corrected.

Several surgical procedures apply to corrective TMJ problems. They include:

  • Arthrocentesis—a relatively simple procedure in which fluid is taken from or medication injected into the problem joint area
  • Arthroscopic surgery—a minimally invasive form of surgery intended to correct tissue, bone or disc problems inside the law or jaw joint
  • Arthroplasty—intended to correct joint problems that arthroscopic surgery cannot address
  • Arthrotomy—a procedure to remove diseased tissues from the joint area
  • Total joint replacement—replaces the jaw joint with artificial parts