TMJ Dysfunction Disorder Treatment Overview
First steps to consider
- Mild symptoms can often be treated at home.
- Home treatments include OTC pain relievers, applying ice and heat, and wearing mouthguards at night.
When you may need a provider
- You have moderate to severe symptoms, ongoing pain or tenderness in the jaw, or you can't open or close your jaw completely.
- You have mild symptoms that haven’t improved with OTC treatments.
Call 911 or go to the ER if you have any of the following symptoms:
- If your jaw becomes locked in an open or closed position, go to the ER to have it placed back in its normal position.
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When to see a healthcare provider
You should consider seeing a healthcare provider if you have moderate to severe TMJ symptoms or you have mild symptoms that haven’t improved after 3–4 weeks of home treatment. Also see your doctor if you have ongoing pain or tenderness in the jaw or if you can't open or close your jaw completely.
You may need to take prescription medication or do physical therapy. Your doctor may also recommend alternative treatments like acupuncture or biofeedback. In rare cases, when medications are not working, you may be referred to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, who may do injections of the jaw or surgery if necessary.
Getting diagnosed for TMJ
There are several types of tests doctors use to diagnose TMJ. These include:
- X-rays to check your teeth and jaw.
- A CT scan, which shows more details of the bones in the joint.
- An MRI to examine the disk in the joint or surrounding soft tissue.
- An arthroscopy may be necessary in some cases. The doctor inserts a small, thin tube with a tiny camera into the joint to study the area.
What to expect from your doctor visit
If at-home treatments aren’t working, your doctor may prescribe medication to relieve your symptoms. They may also recommend other types of therapies, such as acupuncture or biofeedback.
- Prescription-strength anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help pain and inflammation when OTC versions haven't helped.
- Muscle relaxants can help reduce tension and muscle spasms in your jaw.
- Steroid medications can reduce inflammation.
- Certain antidepressants, like tricyclic antidepressants, help reduce nerve pain.
- Biofeedback measures body functions (heart rate, pulse, muscle tension, etc.) and helps you learn how to control them by relaxing or thinking of something calming.
- Acupuncture uses thin needles to stimulate specific points on the body to reduce muscle tension and pain.
- Meditation trains you to focus your attention and awareness in order to increase calmness and physical relaxation.
In rare cases, when medications do not work, you may be referred to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, who may do injections of the jaw or surgery if necessary.
Prescription TMJ medications
- NSAIDS: diclofenac (Voltaren), celecoxib (Celebrex)
- Muscle relaxants: cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril), metaxalone (Skelaxin)
- Steroid injections
- Antidepressants: amitriptyline (Elavil), doxepin (Silenor)
What kind of doctor treats TMJ?
- A primary care provider can treat mild to moderate symptoms.
- A dentist who treats orofacial pain can do additional testing and treat TMJ.
- A physical therapist can teach you jaw exercises to strengthen certain muscles and improve your TMJ range of motion.
- If you have a complex case of TMJ, you may need to see other specialists. These may include a pain specialist, rheumatologist, or a neurologist. Rheumatologists have special training in conditions that affect the joints, muscles, and bones, while neurologists treat diseases of the nerves, spinal cord, and brain.
How can I get rid of TMJ at home?
Mild symptoms of TMJ, which include jaw stiffness and pain in the face and jaw, can often be treated with OTC pain relievers. TMJ home remedies, jaw exercises, and lifestyle changes can also help symptoms.
- OTC anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) can relieve pain and inflammation.
- If you can’t take NSAIDs for any reason, you may be able to use OTC topical anti-inflammatory medication, such as Voltaren gel, on your jaw. But only use it on your face after discussing with your doctor.
- Pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) can also help pain but don’t help inflammation.
- Apply an ice or heat pack to your jaw below your ear to relax muscles and reduce inflammation. Apply for 10–15 minutes at a time.
- Do jaw exercises to strengthen certain muscles and improve your TMJ range of motion. A physical therapist can teach you how to do them.
- Avoid eating hard foods like pretzels and hard candy.
- Avoid eating chewy foods like gum and taffy.
- Don’t chew on things like pencils, pens, ice—and don’t bite your nails.
- Try to reduce stress, which may be creating muscle tension or causing you to clench or grind your jaw.
- Learn relaxation techniques to help relieve stress, such as deep breathing or meditation.
- Wear a mouthguard at night to keep you from grinding your teeth. These are usually fitted by your dentist but there are OTC versions as well.
- Quit smoking if you smoke. Smoking worsens TMJ pain.