TMJ, or temporomandibular joint, is not some mysterious diagnosis or malady. We all have two temporomandibular joints. Like any other joint, you could develop problems; no joint is immune to injury or dysfunction. Unlike any other joint in your body, the "TMJ" is special because there are two, one on each side of your face, that work in concert. Both of these joints interact together with your lower jaw, because they are the hinges.
Like any joint that has developed pain, it needs rest and relaxation! That is hard to do when we need to continue to open and close our mouths to communicate and eat! But to a point, you must rest and guard any part of your body that hurts, or the pain may get worse.
There are drawbacks to treating pain solely with medication in regards to your total health. Your kidneys and liver are precious commodities! If you are needing medication every day for your pain (even over the counter drugs) you should seek expert care if you are not getting better on your own.
Any joint, including the TMJ, can make noise. I hear all the time from patients that they "have TMJ" because their joints click or pop. Although a perfect joint is quiet, few of our bodies are perfect! Just because your joint makes noise does not mean you have a problem. I don't personally recommend treatment of noise in a TMJ unless it is associated with pain.
Having noise in your joints does not mean that you are doomed to have pain develop at some point. Most people with noise in their TMJ's lead a life free of pain. Sometimes the noise can be uncomfortable in the sense that others can hear clicking or popping while you eat. There are surgeries that can be done to make joints quieter, but to me, the risks of worsening problems with an operated joint outweigh the benefits of a quiet joint. Any decision regarding surgery should be tempered with that concept.
In my experience, most people with TMJ pain have developed it because of the surrounding muscles. There are some very strong jaw closing muscles (masseter, temporalis) which if overworked can cause tremendous pain that is often mistaken primarily as a TMJ or jaw joint problem. An operation on the joint will be unsuccessful if done because of pain related to overworking or painful muscles. Treatment of the muscles to relax them can and will ease symptoms. Finding the right treatment is sometimes difficult because each patient has different issues. Medications to relax muscles, although often necessary in the acute phase, can be sedating and this can be an issue with people on the go. Splints, night guards, or bruxism (tooth-grinding) appliances take some getting used to, but can usually help.
I was trained to perform TMJ surgery. I no longer perform this surgery because I believe that it is rarely indicated. And, if indicated, it should be done by a surgeon who performs it often. Surgeons in teaching institutions perform this surgery often because only the more difficult cases come to them, yielding a higher percentage of surgeries. My role now is to educate, diagnose, and help patients to get to the doctor that is most specialized to help their situation. Most solutions to muscular, facial, joint pain are simple, but still take time to accomplish. When you are hurting, another hour seems like too long!
Literature has shown that even people with the worst TMJ problems have eventually had their problem resolve with no treatment at all. The pain may have come from an injury, a malocclusion (bad bite) requiring correction, loss of teeth with associated collapse of the bite, or even wide opening of the mouth for an extended time during extensive dental rehabilitation or surgery. The human body can be forgiving if given a chance! We hope this information helps you to find relief!