If you’re suffering from painful jaw problems and are looking for the best treatments for TMJ, this article is for you. I’ve been a TMJ and orofacial specialist for many years, and I want to share some useful tips with you that help my patients feel better.
For even the best treatments for TMJ to be successful, it’s crucial to try and understand the reasons why you have jaw problems in the first place.
Over the years, we have come to recognize that a significant number of TMJ problems occur as a result of the jaw muscles and temporomandibular joints being overworked. Since TMJ problems are essentially orthopedic problems in the jaw, daytime jaw over-use behaviors such as chewing gum, biting your nails or cuticles, clenching your teeth, bracing your jaw muscles, cheek and lip biting, or gnawing on non-edible items can all fatigue the jaw muscles and sprain the TM joints.
The origin of these daytime jaw overuse behaviors, however, can be rather complex and, as a result, often difficult for patients to change.
The Key Is To Stop Injuring Your Jaw Muscles and Joints
It seems like a no-brainer, right? Just stop your jaw over-use behaviors, and your TMJ problems will disappear. I wish it were that simple.
It requires a tremendous amount of focus and effort to stop behaviors that have likely been in your life for years and may even be comforting in times of stress. Just stopping these behaviors may not be sufficient to ease symptoms of pain and jaw clicking if the jaw muscles or joints have already been persistently injured.
In addition, the way you hold your head can increase the risk of developing a jaw problem. If you work at a computer all day or use your cell phone for hours a day, the position of your head could fatigue your neck muscles leading to jaw pain and even limited jaw motion. Remember, your head is heavy – and when it is forward, the neck muscles are put under strain leading at times to jaw problems.
Reducing or eliminating these behaviors and postures is, therefore, an important part of the getting better process, but achieving these changes takes time. While you’re working on that, I’d like to share with you the treatments we rely upon in our practice to help our patients heal and get better.
What Are The Best Treatments For TMJ?
The best treatments for TMJ always start with an accurate diagnosis. Not every pain in the face and jaw is due to a TMJ disorder. In fact, the broad term Orofacial Pain is now used to describe any discomfort or pain in the mouth, face, and neck region, including the jaw joint (temporomandibular joint or TMJ), muscles, teeth, and nerves.
In 2021, Orofacial Pain was designated as a recognized specialty within dentistry, and as a result, research relating to TMJ disorders will receive additional attention and funding.
Today we design treatment plans based on current research and what we learn from our patients – their medical and dental history and, most importantly, what is going on in their lives.
On a daily basis, there are several TMJ treatments that we rely upon that help the majority of our patients feel better and get better. They are:
- Exercises – We frequently prescribe jaw and neck exercises to ease jaw/neck tension, stretch overworked muscles, and help them heal.
- Physical Therapy/Chiropractic Care – If your TMJ symptoms have lingered for months or even years, a short physical therapy or chiropractic care regimen can help break the cycle of jaw muscle tension.
- Oral Appliances – There’s a misconception that oral appliances (nightguards, mouthguards, bite plates, etc.) stop nighttime tooth clenching and grinding. They don’t. But what they can do, when designed correctly, is reduce the impact of clenching and grinding forces and limit potential injury to the jaw muscles and TM joints.
- Medications that address pain, spasms, muscle tension, and inflammation.
- Trigger Point, Prolo Therapy & Steroid Injections – Some of the best treatments for TMJ disorders involve injections that address pain, spasms, muscle guarding, soreness, and inflammation.
Trigger Point Injections and Dry Needling can be highly effective in breaking up stubborn knots in the jaw/neck muscles. In both cases, a few injection sessions are necessary for full benefit.Prolo Injections, which are a combination of local anesthetic and dextrose, are often used to reduce inflammation in tendons, ligaments, and joint capsules but have been shown to assist in tissue regeneration as well.
Steroids still play an important role in reducing inflammation in the TM joints and supporting tendons and ligaments.
- BOTOX® & Xeomin – BOTOX® and Xeomin are injectable neuromodulators that can ease muscle pain, tension, and nerve pain. These neuromodulators are commonly used in our practice, surrounded with ongoing education as to what these injectables can achieve, their limitations, and potential side effects.
Conclusion & Recommendations
If you’ve been suffering from persistent TMJ symptoms and live near one of our three offices in the NYC metropolitan area (Manhattan, Westchester, Long Island), give us a call at 888-560-6674 to set up a consultation
If you live outside our area, try to find a board-certified Orofacial Pain specialist in your area. Ask your dentist for a referral or check the American Academy of Orofacial Pain’s directory and search for a specialist with Diplomate status.
You don’t have to live with pain forever. Help is here!
Dr. Donald R. Tanenbaum
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