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Treating condition affecting your mouth, jaw and face to help you look and feel your best

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) conditions

Don't let jar pain or noise, problems eating or opening your mouth get in the way of your life. Our team can help you find relief from a variety of oral and maxillofacial issues, from common to complex.

What is the temporomandibular joint (TMJ)?

The temporomandibular joint, also known as TMJ, is a joint located on front of your ear that connects your jaw to your skull. This joint functions like a hinge, opening and closing your mouth, helping you chew, yawn and even say hello.

Everyone has TMJs, but not everyone has a TMJ disorder. Disorders that affect this joint are called temporomandibular joint dysfunction, or TMD. These conditions are common, making them manageable and easy to treat.

TMD symptoms

TMJ disorders can range from minor to severe, occasionally resulting in the need for jaw reconstruction. Symptoms can include:
  • Headaches
  • Ear pain
  • Jaw pain or swelling
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Jaw clicking or popping
  • Facial pain (myofascial pain)
  • Facial swelling 
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Changes in your bite
Having any of these symptoms does not mean you have a TMJ disorder. However, it’s important to talk to your doctor to rule out any underlying health conditions.

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What causes TMJ disorders?

There are certain behaviors, genetic causes and risk factors that can increase your likelihood of developing temporomandibular joint disorders. These can also be caused by problems within the muscles around the joint or within the joint itself.
Causes of TMJ disorders include:
  • Chewing gum: When you chew gum, you exercise your jaw muscles. Frequent gum chewing can cause overuse, leading to jaw strain.
  • Jaw clenching or grinding your teeth: Also known as bruxism, these commonly happen at night while you’re sleeping. Each of these increase the amount of pressure on your jaw, which can lead to pain and swelling.
  • Stress: Being stressed can cause you to clench your jaw, which can aggravate your TMJ, leading to a TMJ disorder.
  • Arthritis in the jaw: Often associated with TMD, this condition can cause pain, swelling, popping and clicking in your jaw. It can also cause your jaw to become misaligned.
  • Misaligned teeth: When your teeth don’t line up correctly, your bite surface becomes uneven. Not only does this put extra strain on your jaw, but it can also lead to headaches, jaw pain and premature wear and tear on your teeth.
  • Other risk factors: Other risk factors that can increase the risk of TMD include being female, having a jaw injury or  poor posture in the neck or back.

How are TMJ disorders diagnosed?

A TMJ disorder is usually identified by your dentist or an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Our team of oral and maxillofacial specialists are experienced in diagnosing and treating a variety of conditions affecting the temporomandibular joint. Tests to diagnose temporomandibular joint disorders may include:
  • History and physical exam – Your doctor will examine your jaw for any abnormalities, look for sources of discomfort or pain, assess range of motion for your jaw and listen for any clicking or popping sounds.
  • Dental X-ray – This allows your doctor to see the condition of your jaw and face, and potentially rule out other causes of your symptoms.
  • Magnetic resonance imagining (MRI): MRIs use powerful radio waves and magnets to create detailed 3D images of your jaw.
  • Computerized tomography (CT or CAT) scans: CT scans use X-rays to obtain cross-sectional images of your jaw.
  • TMJ arthroscopy – During this minimally-invasive treatment, a small, flexible tube with a camera is placed into your mouth to view the space around the jaw.

Temporomandibular joint disorder treatments

Our oral and maxillofacial team is experienced in diagnosing and treating all kinds of temporomandibular joint conditions. Depending on the type and severity of your condition, one or more of the following treatments may be recommended.
Lifestyle changes

There are several lifestyle changes your doctor may suggest to help manage your symptoms. These may include:
  • Doing jaw exercises
  • Changing your diet to avoid very crunchy foods
  • Reducing stress
  • Using hot or cold compresses
  • Wearing a mouthguard
Non-surgical treatment

There are a number of non-surgical treatment methods that can help to treat TMD. Depending on your needs, your doctor may recommend: 

  • Medication, including pain relievers or anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants 
  • Oral appliances 
  • Physical therapy
  • Injections, including Botox

Our surgeons use the latest techniques to treat various types of TMD, including minimally invasive surgery, to offer you the best outcomes and path for healing. Our team is highly trained and board-certified, which means they’ve passed an optional national exam to demonstrate their medical expertise. 
Surgeries to treat TMJ disorders include:
  • Arthrocentesis
  • Total joint replacement
  • TMJ arthroscopy
  • Open-joint surgery

Talk with your doctor to learn which approach or procedure is best for you.

Maxillofacial and oral surgery at Geisinger

Our oral and maxillofacial team is here to provide you with compassionate care and the most advanced treatments available. We offer:
  • Comprehensive specialty care – Our jaw and facial specialists offer innovative treatment options and personalized care in convenient locations, so you don’t have to travel far. We’ll work with you to develop a personalized care plan based on your unique needs.

  • Care designed for you, where you live – With locations throughout northeast, central and south-central Pennsylvania, our experienced team provides consultations and comprehensive care. We offer leading-edge treatment options and tailored-to-you care, backed by the expertise and innovation of a nationally recognized health system. 

  • Minimally invasive surgery – We use minimally invasive techniques whenever possible. This type of surgery offers a higher degree of precision and less disruption to healthy tissue compared to other surgical methods. This means smaller surgical incisions, shorter recovery and a faster return to your daily activities.

  • Advanced sleep apnea treatment – Our team is trained in advanced treatment methods for obstructive sleep apnea, including the Inspire sleep apnea device. The Inspire device is controlled by a handheld remote that’s turned on before you go to bed. It monitors your breathing while you sleep, delivering gentle pulses to keep your airway open. It requires no hoses, no mask and is surgically implanted through a minimally-invasive procedure, meaning you can be home the same day as your surgery.
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