TMJ DISORDERS: TREATMENT
If you suffer from a TMJ disorder, you should know that there are proven-effective treatments that will enable you to:
- Regain proper jaw joint function;
- Manage TMJ-related pain; and,
- Improve your quality of life.
The origins of TMJ disorders can vary greatly, and all patients who suffer from jaw joint pain and dysfunction do not experience the same symptoms. The specific therapies we will provide for you will be based on the cause(s) of your disorder plus its severity and complexity. Focusing on causes enables us to effectively manage your disorder – and not just your symptoms.
Some treatments for TMJ disorders involve maintaining (or regaining) proper alignment of your cervical spine. Other treatments are designed to retrain, reprogram and/or strengthen the muscles of your jaw and its surrounding structures.
Phase I Therapy
Once diagnosed, unless you have a situation such as a fractured jaw, the first approach to treating your TMJ disorder should be conservative (i.e., non-surgical and reversible). This is often referred to as “Phase I Therapy” and generally takes from 6-12 months to complete.
Treatment during Phase I may include all or some of the following:
- A custom-made oral appliance for orthopedic stabilization or repositioning (i.e., “splint”). One size does not fit all. To be effective, appliances must precision-fit to each patient.
- Medication for pain control and muscle relaxation.
- Physical therapy and physical medicine modalities.
- Therapeutic injections.
- Behavior modification (i.e., stress relief, improved sleep and nutritional guidance).
Pain indicates that the body is unable to completely heal itself. That’s why, in addition to treatment in our office, we provide our patients with healing and wellness strategies, which can play an important role in successful management of TMJ disorders. Your compliance with these strategies can – and will – make a significant difference in your treatment outcomes.
Complementary healing & wellness strategies that may be recommended in conjunction with your Phase I therapy include, but are not limited to, the following:
Throughout treatment for TMJ pain and dysfunction, certain dietary changes can be important in helping to ensure that you achieve optimal results. We may place you on a soft (not liquid) diet to reduce the stress on your jaw joints and recommend as vitamins and other nutritional supplements to enhance your body’s ability to heal.
We will provide you with therapeutic exercises to help strengthen your head, neck and shoulder muscles. We may also coordinate your care with other healthcare practitioners such as a physical therapist, chiropractor or massage therapist.
It is important for patients who suffer from TMJ disorders to maintain proper posture, so that the natural curves of your spine remain in their normal and balanced alignment. To keep your spine aligned, your chest must be up, your shoulders down and your head located over your body. (Forward head posture, which is common among patients who suffer from TMJ pain and dysfunction, should be avoided.)
Your sleep habits and sleep position are vitally important. We will review the importance of sleep with you, and make recommendations to improve your sleep hygiene based on your individual needs.
Phase II Therapy
Many of our patients respond well to Phase I Therapy and require no additional treatment beyond annual follow-up appointments. However, some patients may require Phase II therapy.
In brief, the purpose of most Phase II Therapy is to correct bite problems or “malocclusions.” Phase II therapies may include orthodontics, crowns, implants, overlay partials and, in some cases, surgery.
A Word of Caution about TMJ Surgery
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) of the National Institutes of Health:
“Surgical treatments are controversial, often irreversible, and should be avoided where possible. There have been no long-term clinical trials to study the safety and effectiveness of surgical treatments for TMJ disorders. Nor are there standards to identify people who would most likely benefit from surgery. Failure to respond to conservative treatments, for example, does not automatically mean that surgery is necessary. If surgery is recommended, be sure to have the doctor explain to you, in words you can understand, the reason for the treatment, the risks involved, and other types of treatment that may be available.”
If you are considering undergoing TMJ surgery, we invite you to contact us for a second opinion.