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Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Dysfunction Symptoms and Treatment

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What is Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Dysfunction?

TMJ stands for Temporomandibular Joint, and involves dysfunction of the joints in the jaw. Keep in mind that occasional discomfort in the jaw joint or chewing muscles is common and is not a cause for concern. Many people with TMJ problems get better without treatment. Often the problem goes away on its own in several weeks to months.

TMJ Symptoms

Pain is the most common symptom of TMJ; however, some people have no pain but still have problems using their jaws.

Specific TMJ symptoms include:

  • Face pain

  • Pain in the jaw joint and nearby areas, including the ear

  • Back pain

  • Inability to open the mouth comfortably

  • Clicking, popping or grating sounds in the jaw joint

  • Locking of the jaw when attempting to open the mouth

  • Headaches

  • A bite that is uncomfortable or feels “off”

  • Swelling on the side of the face, neck or shoulder

Other symptoms may include ringing in the ears, decreased hearing, dizziness and vision problems.

TMJ Causes

Not all causes of TMJ are known. Some possible causes are injuries to the jaw area, various forms of arthritis, some dental procedures, stretching of the jaw (as a result of movements like inserting a breathing tube before surgery), and clenching or grinding of teeth, especially during sleep.

TMJ Treatment

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research of the National Institutes of Health, TMJ treatments should be reversible whenever possible. That means that the treatment should not cause permanent changes to the jaw or teeth. Irreversible treatments have not been proven to work and may even make the problem worse.

Reversible Treatments:

  • Over-the-counter pain medications

  • Prescription medications

  • Gentle jaw stretching and relaxation exercises

  • Stabilization splints (biteplate, night guard)

Irreversible Treatments:

  • Adjustment of the bite by grinding the teeth

  • Extensive dental work

  • Mandibular repositioning splints

  • Orthodontics

  • Surgical procedures including replacement of all or parts of the jaw joint

TMJ Insurance Coverage

Many medical and dental insurance plans do not pay for the treatment of jaw joint and muscle disorders, or, they only pay for some procedures. Contact your insurance company to see which treatments are covered for you.