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What Is TMJ Surgery?

A splint may be worn at night to prevent damage to teeth for people with temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) and bruxism.
A person with TMJ.
OTC painkillers can help with pain from TMJ surgery.
People with TMJ disorder experience pain in their jaw and face.
People with TMJ will have trouble opening their mouths to fulfill actions like yawning.
Article Details
  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) surgery is a procedure utilized to alleviate the discomfort associated with a variety of temporomandibular joint disorders and restore proper functionality to the joint. Individuals who develop a TMJ disorder generally experience pain and discomfort in their jaw and face due to the functional limitations created by the presence of the jaw disorder. TMJ surgery is generally reserved only for cases where traditional, non-invasive treatment options have failed to alleviate pain and discomfort. Surgical approach is entirely dependent on the type and severity of the disorder, as well as the history of the individual’s temporomandibular joint disorder.

Open TMJ surgery may be performed if an individual's TMJ symptoms are discovered to be caused by the presence of a growth, jaw fracture, or bone deterioration. This form of TMJ surgery is usually reserved for cases where extensive correction is necessary to promote proper joint functionality, such as comprehensive joint alignment or the removal of tissue or bone. Performed under general anesthesia, open TMJ surgery does carry risk for nerve damage and extensive scarring. The use of general anesthesia carries its own additional risks, including respiratory difficulty and stroke. Less invasive approaches to TMJ surgery include the utilization of arthroscopy and arthrocentesis.

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The use of arthrocentesis is generally reserved for acute cases of TMJ in individuals who have no history of TMJ disorder, but whose condition significantly restricts jaw functionality. This type of TMJ surgery involves the administration of a sterile liquid to flush the joint and may necessitate the positioning of a block within the joint to prevent future TMJ issues, such as jaw locking. Arthroscopy generally necessitates the removal of irritated tissue within the joint and a minor adjustment of the TMJ.

Located on either side of the head, the temporomandibular joint connects the lower jaw to the temporal bone that projects down from the skull. A TMJ disorder may develop in the presence of a variety of factors including injury to the joint, habitually clenching of one’s teeth, and jaw muscle constriction that occurs in the presence of chronic stress. Regardless of the cause, a TMJ disorder generally presents with characteristic symptoms that vary only in degree of presentation.

Most individuals with a TMJ disorder experience a limitation of jaw functionality due to the pain and discomfort the disorder creates. Oftentimes, tenderness prevents the individual from being able to fully open his or her mouth as occurs when yawning. Symptomatic individuals may also develop a popping or grinding sound in their jaw when chewing or speaking. Additional signs of a TMJ disorder may include facial discomfort, swelling, and episodic locking of the jaw.

Traditional treatment for TMJ disorders generally involve the implementation of dietary and lifestyle changes, as well as the application of compresses and use of over-the-counter (OTC) analgesics to ease discomfort. Some individuals may require the use of a mouth guard when sleeping to prevent further damage to the joint as may occur when grinding one’s teeth. Behavioral changes may also be recommended, such as limiting jaw movement and avoiding placing unnecessary pressure on the affected joint. When such non-invasive treatments fail to alleviate symptoms, surgical correction may be necessary.

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