Jaw pain might indicate complex medical problems

11/1/2018, 2:43 p.m. | Updated on 11/1/2018, 2:43 p.m.

One of the most important areas of TMJ research is developing clear guidelines for diagnosing these disorders. Once scientists agree on what these guidelines should be, it will be easier for physicians to correctly identify TMJ disorders and to decide what treatment, if any, is needed.

Treatments are usually conservative and reversible

Because most TMJ problems are temporary and do not get worse, simple, conservative treatment is all that is usually needed to relieve discomfort. Self-care practices—for example, eating soft foods, applying heat or ice packs and avoiding extreme jaw movements (such as wide yawning, loud singing and gum chewing)—are sometimes useful in easing symptoms. Learning special techniques for relaxing and reducing stress might also help patients deal with pain that often comes with TMJ problems. Other conservative, reversible treatments include exercises you can do at home, which focus on gentle muscle stretching and relaxing, and short-term use of muscle-relaxing and anti-inflammatory drugs.

An oral appliance called a splint or bite plate, which is a plastic guard that fits over the upper or lower teeth, can help reduce clenching or grinding and thus ease muscle tension. An oral splint should be used only for a short time and should not cause permanent changes in the bite. If a splint causes or increases pain, stop using it and return to your doctor.

Other types of treatment, such as surgery or injections, invade the tissues and are being studied to see if they are helpful over time. Surgical treatments are often irreversible and should be avoided where possible.