TMJ Awareness Month: Treatment Options and Facts

Dental Patient Education Tips

November is TMJ Awareness Month, dedicated to enhancing patient understanding of disorders related to the temporomandibular joint. This time of year is a valuable opportunity to educate your dental team and your patients about TMJ and strategies for managing associated symptoms.

In this blog, we will delve into what TMJ is, explore common exercises for pain relief, and discuss available treatment options.

What is TMJ? 

The temporomandibular joint connects the lower jaw bone (the mandible) to the skull’s temporal bones on each side of your head. The TMJ is the most complicated joint in the human body due to the complex and synchronized movement of the joints. 

TMJ is a complex condition characterized by pain in the jaw joint and surrounding tissues. It is frequently associated with pain and limitation of movement in the jaw. While the exact number of people suffering from TMJ is unknown, it’s estimated that between 5% and 12% of the population has some form of TMJ. 

TMJ Symptoms

Showing patients how to recognize signs of TMJ can help prevent the condition from worsening. Patients should be on the lookout for the following symptoms:

  • Pain and tenderness in the jaw 
  • Difficulty or pain when chewing 
  • Locking of the jaw 
  • Headaches 
  • Tinnitus 
  • Tooth pain 
  • Shoulder or neck pain
  • Malocclusion 

If patients are experiencing any of these symptoms, they should be encouraged to reach out to their dental team.

TMJ Facts

Let’s dig deeper into some facts to help patients better understand TMJ disorder and its potential impact on their lives:

  1. TMJ affects women at much higher rates than men. In fact, ninety percent of those suffering from TMJ are women between the ages of 30 and 50. 
  2. TMJ pain and symptoms can sometimes go away on their own without treatment. 
  3. Stress and anxiety can cause or worsen TMJ. 
  4. Taking certain medications, such as antidepressants, can cause TMJ pain.
  5. TMJ is not curable, but you are able to manage the symptoms.

TMJ Exercises 

As a dental professional, you can educate your patients about exercises that can help relieve TMJ pain. These exercises can relieve pain by strengthening the jaw muscles and increasing mobility. Some common exercises for TMJ include:

  • Goldfish Exercise: 
    • Step 1: Press your tongue to the roof of your mouth.
    • Step 2: Place one finger on your temporomandibular joint and another one on your chin.
    • Step 3: Relax your jaw and open your mouth while keeping your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
    • Step 4: Open your mouth fully, close, and repeat six times per side. 
  • Chin Tucks:
    • Step 1: Sit or stand straight with your shoulders back and chest up.
    • Step 2: Pull your chin straight back and down toward the chest, creating a “double chin.”
    • Step 3: Hold for three seconds and repeat ten times.
  • Resisted Opening:
    • Step 1: Place two fingers under your chin.
    • Step 2: Gently push your chin upward while you try to open your mouth against the resistance.
    • Step 3: Hold for a few seconds.
    • Step 4: Relax and repeat 5-10 times.
  • Side-to-Side Jaw Movement:
    • Step 1: Open your mouth slightly.
    • Step 2: Move your jaw side to side.
    • Step 3: Repeat 10-15 times.

TMJ Treatment Options

Patient education is the backbone of any thriving dental practice. As a dental hygienist, assistant, or dentist, it’s up to you to discuss treatment options with your patients so they can make informed decisions. Some common treatment options for TMJ include:  

  • Lifestyle Modifications: Many patients are able to resolve TMJ symptoms on their own. This includes avoiding excessive chewing, clenching, and grinding of the teeth. Patients should also avoid overly crunchy or hard foods that can put unnecessary strain on their jaws. 
  • Medications: Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen are used to treat less severe symptoms by helping with inflammation and pain. Prescription medications like muscle relaxers can be used to treat more severe pain. 
  • Mouthguards: Using a mouthguard can help protect your teeth and prevent unnecessary grinding or clenching. 
  • Physical Therapy: Working with a physical therapist can help you gain more mobility and decrease tightness in the facial muscles. 
  • Hot and Cold Presses: Using hot and cold presses can help alleviate common aches and pains associated with TMJ. 
  • Surgery: If the other methods aren’t working, surgical options include TMJ arthroscopy, open-joint surgery, and arthrocentesis. 
  • Stress Management: Stress management techniques, such as relaxation exercises and biofeedback, can help reduce teeth clenching and jaw muscle tension. 
  • Injections: Injections such as botox, lidocaine, and steroids are often used to treat TMJ pain. 

As a dental professional, TMJ is a relatively common problem you will encounter during your career. Learning the common symptoms and treatment options will make you a better dental professional. Be sure to share this information with your patients this November!