TMJ disorder refers to a chronic pain condition that afflicts the temporomandibular joint, also referred to as the TMJ. In the beginning, TMJ disorder may seem like a simple annoyance, but left untreated, the symptoms will only progress and worsen over time. Since the joint in question connects the jaw to the lower part of the skull, TMJ symptoms can negatively impact a number of unavoidable daily activities, including talking and eating. While there are various tactics that may be employed to lessen the discomfort of TMJ symptoms, such as eating only soft foods, regularly performing exercises to loosen and relax the jaw, and taking care not to open the jaw wide while biting or chewing, these are only temporary fixes. If you or someone you care about suffers from TMJ, you’ll want a permanent solution. In the past, surgery was frequently cited as the only way to “cure” TMJ disorder for good. However, new advances in neuromuscular dentistry have made it clear that surgery is not the only solution. In fact, considering the many risks associated with TMJ surgery, it is rarely the best solution for most TMJ patients.
There are several different surgical techniques that are regularly employed in the treatment of TMJ. The least invasive of these is arthrocentesis, or joint irrigation. Arthrocentesis usually takes around fifteen minutes to complete and requires the use of general anesthesia. The process involves flushing the joint via injection in order remove inflamed fluids. Frequently, surgeons will also inject steroids into the area in order to prevent inflammation. While arthrocentesis is relatively low-risk, it is still a surgical procedure and has the standard attendant dangers, including reactions to anesthesia and possibility of infection. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the surgery will help relieve TMJ symptoms. If arthrocentesis is unsuccessful, the doctor may advice moving on to the next type of TMJ surgery, arthroplasty.
Arthroplasty refers to any type of “open surgery” used to treat TMJ. There are many different procedures that fall into the category of arthroplasty, some more dangerous and invasive than others. One surgical tactic is disk repositioning. During this procedure, the surgeon will locate and reposition the protective cartilage disk that has slipped out of place in the temporomandibular joint. (A slipped disk in the TMJ often leads to pain and a persistent “popping” noise, two of the hallmarks of TMJ disorder.) This type of surgery requires an overnight hospital stay, and there are no guarantees that the disk will not slip again after being stitched into place. The next type of arthroplasty is the discectomy, or total removal of the disk. The surgeon may also want to try a process such as articular eminance recontouring, which seeks to reshape the “socket” portion of the temporomandibular joint. The final and most extreme type of arthroplasty is TMJ replacement surgery. If the TMJ is determined to be badly deteriorated or otherwise beyond repair, the surgeon may suggest partial or even total replacement of the joint.
Patients who undergo TMJ surgery expose themselves to a variety of serious health risks. These risks range from pain, swelling and excessive bleeding, to post-surgical infection and even the possibility of damage to the surrounding facial nerves. A far better solution involves reparative dentistry. A TMJ specialist like Dr. Eddie Siman of Millennium Dental will be able to explain your non-surgical options, such as orthotics or “splint therapy,” porcelain veneers to realign the bite or even total mouth reconstruction, more thoroughly. If you’re considering your TMJ treatment options and you’d like to avoid surgery, contact Millennium Dental today and make an appointment with Dr. Siman.