The winter warm-up this week must be making those who struggle from temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder excited for spring. Studies haven?t been able to draw a firm conclusion but patients with TMJ disorder insist that the cold weather does make jaw pain worse. TMJ disorder still remains an under-diagnosed and under-treated condition; however, celebrity LeAnne Rimes underwent oral surgery as a method of TMJ treatment, which has helped to spread interest and awareness of the condition. Health care professionals are also becoming more aware of this disorder, and the term TMJ has become a buzz word for the general public.
 
Are You a Potential TMJ Disorder Patient?
According to the US National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, TMJ disorder is the second-most common musculoskeletal condition in the country, and 5 to 12% of the population suffers from the condition. Women suffer from this disorder 4 times more than men, and it is most common among people between the ages of 20 and 40. TMJ is a hinge that connects a jaw to the temporal bones of the skull, which are located in front of each ear. This joint enables the jaw to move up and down and side to side. When your TMJ is not working properly, the muscles around it can cause a host of oral-systemic problems that can lead to stiffness, headaches, dizziness, earache, malocclusion, clicking sounds, difficulty in chewing, or neck and shoulder pain. The most common causes range from bruxism, excessive nail biting, degenerative joint diseases, trauma, to rheumatoid arthritis.
 
Surgical or Non-Surgical?
Unfortunately, this disorder is difficult to diagnose as its symptoms mimic other ailments and there are still misconceptions, little-known facts, and lack of retrospective studies and case reports regarding the condition. Oral and maxillofacial (OMF) surgeons, dentists, and plastic surgeons offer treatments for TMJ disorder patients; however, the approaches these specialties utilize differ; the OMF surgeons remove and replace the joint surgically whereas the rest of the specialists suggest a less invasive option. Since joint replacement surgery as a TMJ treatment is irreversible and hardly recommended, the TMJ replacement device market has been struggling and many businesses had to cease their production. OMF surgeons, as a major customer in this market, are facing strong competitive pressure created by dental and aesthetic device markets, which attract patients with the less invasive nature of their techniques. That said, because surgeons and patients consider TMJ replacement treatment a last resort, the trend has been more directed toward dentists and plastic surgeons that can perform non-surgical corrective dental adjustments and conventional therapies, respectively. The TMJ replacement device market will, however, begin to see increased competition as companies invest in gathering clinical data to demonstrate the efficacy of their products.
 
Find the Right Solution to Tame Your TMJ Pain
Many times, TMJ disorder symptoms can be treated with conventional conservative therapy and lifestyle changes such as eating soft foods, applying ice or moist heat, wearing custom-made night guards or dental splints, practicing self-massage techniques, or taking medications. Patients will need to explore several different therapies to relieve their TMJ pain and coinciding conditions. Choosing a medical specialty will significantly influence treatment route options provided to patients. Dentists offer non-invasive TMJ treatment such as splint therapy, which is known to be highly effective and has very few risks and complications. However, it can cause facial distortion as the jaw is often being realigned excessively. On the other hand, TMJ replacement surgery performed by OMFl surgeons carries more risks and has a history of varied and unpredictable results; therefore, an accurate diagnosis is critical for successful treatment and avoiding surgery at all costs will always be recommended until all other measures of TMJ treatment have been attempted. The success of treatment depends on how severe the symptoms are and failure of conservative therapy does not necessarily mean that patients will need to go through the surgical avenue. Because there is no certified specialty for TMJ disorder in either dentistry or medicine, finding the right solution might be difficult. Before considering any surgery on the jaw joint, understanding the symptoms, causes, treatment options and facts about TMJ disorder is the best first step for patients, and then seeking professional advice to fully understand the risks as well as to make knowledgeable decisions. The good news is that most patients find their symptoms going away without any treatment at all!

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