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TMJ Dentistry

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TMJ is a Real Pain in the Jaw

TMJ is a joint disorder that causes popping sounds and pain in the jaw. There is a minimally invasive surgical procedure called arthrocentesis that may relieve the symptoms of this disorder. However, most patients respond to non-invasive therapies and don’t need surgery at all.

TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder) is a very common jaw problem. Many people have jaw popping or jaw pain at some point. This can be a result of overworked jaw muscles from unconscious grinding or clenching of the teeth. These behaviors are especially likely to happen at night or during times of high stress. However, the cause of the condition isn’t always identifiable.

Most of the time, TMJ is short-lived and resolves on its own. However, the symptoms of TMJ can become severe or chronic. When this happens, the condition can be annoying and painful. In some cases, jaw function can be seriously impaired. Fortunately, this kind of jaw disorder is often highly treatable with non-invasive therapies. If you have the signs of TMJ, don’t hesitate to call Dennis W. Nagel DDS, PS. to seek diagnosis and treatment to regain your quality of life.

What are the Symptoms of TMJ?

This condition features a wide range of warning signs. You might experience one or more of the following:

Clicking or Popping

These sounds usually occur when you open or close your jaw. The clicking or popping sound may be accompanied by a sharp pain. Or, it could be painless. This symptom is related to swelling in the muscles and connective tissue in the jaw joint. In moderate to severe cases, the disk of cartilage that cushions the joint and promotes smooth movement may have become inflamed and shifted out of position.

Chronic Pain

If your jaw muscles are overworked, you may have muscle spasms in the affected area. You may feel yourself clenching your jaw and unable to relax. The jaw pain may be throbbing or constant. It may get worse when you try to chew or talk. The pain can also radiate into other areas of your face or neck. Some patients with TMJ get headaches from jaw inflammation. Tooth sensitivity is another potential side effect of jaw pain.

Jaw Grinding

Advanced TMJ symptoms include a grinding sensation in the jaw joint during chewing. This is an indication that the disk of cartilage has become damaged or degraded. It can happen because of injury or due to a degenerative joint disease like arthritis. Eventually, your jaw may not open all the way.

Facial Asymmetry

If your jaw is no longer fitting properly in its socket, you may notice that your face looks slightly crooked. Your jaw may jut to one side instead of moving straight down when you open your mouth. This can be caused by swelling in one side of the jaw. Or, it can be an indication of more serious damage. If your jaw gets stuck in the open position, it is probably dislocated. This condition requires emergency treatment.


Inflammation in the jaw joint can affect how your ears work. You might have a constant ringing sound in your ears (tinnitus). Or, you might experience dizziness and other balance problems. Hearing loss is a rare but serious symptom of TMJ.

MJ Treatment Overview

There are many therapies available for minimizing and managing the symptoms of TMJ. These procedures are designed to reduce swelling, relieve muscle tension and restore normal jaw function. Dennis W. Nagel D.D.S., P.S. recommends starting with the least invasive treatment before trying any kind of surgical intervention. Here are a few things that may help with jaw pain:

  • Heating pad (for initial injury to the jaw)
  • Ice packs (for ongoing inflammation)
  • Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs (like Ibuprofen or Tylenol)
  • Jaw relaxation exercises (Dennis W. Nagel D.D.S., P.S. can recommend several)
  • Muscle relaxers (for temporary relief of acute muscle spasms)

Professional Treatments

Dental treatment for TMJ may involve prescribing a custom molded night guard. This device limits tooth grinding and gives the inflamed jaw muscles and tendons a break. A splint is a more durable and advanced appliance that may be used to reposition the jaw so that it is retrained to move normally during the day as well. Consistent use is the key to treatment success with a night guard or splint.

Surgical intervention usually involves arthrocentesis. This procedure uses needles and saline solution to flush out scar tissue that has accumulated in the jaw joint. Steroids or lubricants may be injected into the joint during treatment. This is a quick, outpatient procedure done under IV sedation. The intervention may provide fast relief for patients who do not respond to other treatments. At this time, arthrocentesis and other TMJ surgeries are only recommended as a last resort because evidence for their effectiveness is still being explored.

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