People often don’t notice temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ) until it becomes an acute problem. Acute TMJ flare-ups are associated with locked jaw, extreme pain in the jaw joints and/or muscles, headaches, ringing in the ears, and more symptoms.
When this happens, you might be given treatments to alleviate the current state, such as anti-inflammatory injections, pain relievers, muscle relaxants, and sometimes manual movements of the jaw to try to position it in a better place. But many of these are short-term treatments that just help you get through the immediate crisis. Most people who experience these types of acute symptoms have a chronic condition that, if left untreated, can lead to future attacks.
So what do you have to do between TMJ attacks to prevent the next one?
Oral Appliances (Bite Splints)
For many people, the cause of jaw problems is that their jaw isn’t held at a comfortable rest position. This causes conflict between the different parts of the jaw system: the muscles are pulling against the teeth and jaw joints. This can displace the jaw joints and cause serious damage to the teeth. It also strains the muscles.
Bite splints work by putting your jaw in a restful position for your muscles. This calms the struggle and reduces tension in the jaw. This provides long-term relief from muscle tension and slows the rate of jaw joint wear. This hopefully not only prevents your next TMJ flare-up, but also protects you from ever needing joint replacement surgery in your jaw, which is much less successful than other joint replacement surgeries, in part because the jaw joint is so complicated.
It’s unusual for jaw problems to be entirely physiological. They often have psychological components as well. The psychological component is often stress. If you have high levels of stress that interact with your jaw tension, identifying and avoiding stress triggers is often critical to preventing future jaw problems.
There are many good techniques for combating stress, but one of the most validated for TMJ treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In addition, you should evaluate the stressors in your life and consider what you can do to remove some of them (such as seeking a new job or getting out of a bad relationship). Combating stress isn’t easy, but it’s worth it–there are many health benefits beyond avoiding your next TMJ flare-up.
Most people know Botox as a cosmetic treatment, but it’s actually a toxin that relaxes your muscles. Botox injections into the jaw muscles can help them relax, preventing jaw pain, headaches, tooth wear, and joint damage.
Each injection can give several months of relief, and repeating them over time can help you avoid future attacks.
Sleep Apnea Treatment
Sleep apnea and TMJ are often closely associated with one another. In fact, we take night bruxism (clenching and grinding) as a sign of undiagnosed sleep apnea.
We don’t know which condition precedes the other, but we do know that the two can feed off one another, leading to a worsening condition. If you have TMJ, we want to evaluate you for sleep apnea and make sure we’re treating that condition if you have it as well.
Avoid Your Next Flare-Up
TMJ flare-ups can be disabling. They not only cause significant suffering, but they can lead to lost work or time with family. We want to help you avoid that in the future.