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Effective Methods of TMJ Treatment
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the hinge formed just in front of the ear, where the upper skull (temporal) and lower jaw (mandible) bones connect. TMJ dysfunction, an irritation or injury to the TM joint, is a common medical condition, affecting almost 720 million people worldwide. It also produces a number of troublesome effects, including pain, throbbing, joint "popping," and general discomfort. Treatments, though, are widely available, so there is no reason why anyone should suffer. Specialists provide a number of different TMJ treatment options, either to diminish the symptoms or to relieve them entirely.
1. Jaw rest. The most common of the TMJ treatment options is the simplest, relaxing the jaw to avoid further irritation, and almost all specialists will recommend this to start. The TM joint is one of the most overused in the human body - we depend on it for chewing, talking, and yawning, among other things, meaning it gets little rest. Resting the TM joint may consist of adopting a soft diet, including cooked vegetables and fruit, cottage cheese, mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs, smoothies, soup, TMJ Disorders and yogurt. Chewing gum, ice, and hard candy are definitely not recommended. And if you feel you must eat food that needs to be chewed, cut it up in small pieces, so you won't have to open your jaw as wide.
2. Medications. Many Western medical practitioners rely on traditional measures, such as prescribing medications to dull the pain (i.e. aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, etc.) or to relax the jaw (i.e. Valium, Celestone, etc.), thereby relieving the irritation and pain from the stressed joint.
3. Stretching Exercises. A TMJ specialist, such as a dentist or a physical therapist, can prepare some stretching exercises to help you relax while you're awake, thereby allowing your body to repair and rebuild the muscles and other structures in the jaw and, specifically, at the joint. Massage and electrical stimulation can also decrease the pain and increase the range of motion of the joint.
4. Hot and cold. Heat and/or ice pack therapies are effective for sudden flare-ups of the condition, and they also do well in conjunction with massage therapy, an alternative treatment. Both hot and cold can shrink the swelling of the tissues around the joint and stop the muscle spasms, allowing the joint to rest.
5. Bite Plates. In dentistry, a common TMJ therapy is the use of splints or bite plates inserted for a short period of time. Commonly known as "night guards," although they may be worn during the day, the splints fit between the upper and lower teeth, keeping the teeth apart. That way they help reduce grinding and clenching (known as bruxism) and, in turn, can relieve muscle tension and pain. These are not used for a prolonged period so they won't cause any permanent changes in the structure of the teeth or the jaw. When the teeth or the bone beneath them need to be moved or reshaped, orthodontia may be required.
6. Surgery. In severe cases of TMJ dysfunction, a doctor, such as a maxillofacial surgeon may recommend arthroscopic surgery, including ligament tightening or joint replacement. However, conclusive results of successful TMJ surgeries are few and far between, and those that are available do not provide proof of long-term relief from pain. Some patients find that the pain actually increases after surgery, but others who have had a great many failed interventions find that surgery offers the only help.
Two possible alternative treatments are:
1. Biofeedback. This technique teaches you to control involuntary processes, such as muscle tension. Since one of the causes of TMJ pain is muscle tension, by learning to relax and to control that tension, you can control TMJ pain.
2. Yoga. This technique, with its focus on breathing control techniques, is also a good choice.
Remember - you should get a second opinion before you make a decision about which of the TMJ treatment options your healthcare professional recommends. Make sure you understand all the options available to you, as well as the benefits and risks of each.