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Treating TMJ: Less Is Often Best

Pain in and around the muscles and bones of the jaw joint is usually temporary and often goes away by itself.

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Pain in and around the muscles and bones of the jaw joint is usually temporary and often goes away by itself. Illustration: NIDCR

What is TMJ?

Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders, commonly called TMJ, are a group of painful conditions affecting the muscles controlling jaw movement. Injury plays a role in some TMJ problems, but for many people, symptoms start without obvious reason. Fortunately, for most, TMJ pain does not signal a serious problem. Discomfort is occasional, temporary, and goes away with little or no treatment.

However, for others, TMJ pain can be chronic and debilitating. Little scientific evidence exists to show which treatments are effective. Scientists sponsored by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) are investigating the causes of and potential treatments for TMJ.

What Can I Do?

Until there is scientific evidence for making sound treatment decisions, NIDCR suggests people:

  • Eat soft foods, use ice packs, and avoid wide yawning, gum chewing, and other extreme jaw movements. Short-term use of over-the-counter or prescription pain medicines may also provide relief.
  • Avoid treatments resulting in permanent changes in the bite or jaw, including crown and bridge work to balance the bite, orthodontics to change the bite, grinding down teeth to bring the bite into balance, and repositioning splints.
  • Avoid surgery, where possible, and if considering surgery, get medical opinions to fully understand the potential risks.

Finding the Right Care

Because there is no certified dental or medical specialty for TMJ disorders, finding the right care can be difficult. Look for healthcare providers who understand disorders of the muscles, bones, and joints and are trained in treating pain conditions. Hospital and university pain clinics are often good sources of advice.

Read More "TMJ" Articles

Roller-coaster Ride to Relief From TMJ / Treating TMJ: Less Is Often Best / TMJ: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Winter 2010 Issue: Volume 5 Number 1 Page 15