TMJ, Facial Pain, and Nerve Injury

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UT Southwestern Medical Center’s multidisciplinary specialists, ranging from ear, nose, and throat doctors to dentists, oral surgeons, and physical therapists, expertly diagnose and treat TMJ disorders and related nerve injury and facial pain.

Comprehensive Care for TMJ Pain

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ), located on each side of the head, connects the jaw to the skull, making it possible for us to chew, speak, swallow, and open and close our mouths. TMJ disorders can cause pain in the head or neck, tension or migraine-type headaches, a clicking or crackling sound (crepitus), and difficulty opening and closing the jaw properly.

The oral and maxillofacial specialists at UT Southwestern are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of TMJ disorders, facial pain, and nerve injury. Our physicians use the most effective, innovative treatments in an environment focused on safety. Surgeons from Asia, Europe, and South America have visited our renowned Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Clinic to observe and learn from the advancements that have been made there.

Causes of TMJ Disorders

In most cases, TMJ pain is a result of injury to the jaw or face (for example, a fall that affects the chin or difficult extractions). The associated pain and discomfort can be severe enough to disrupt speech and chewing.

TMJ disorders are most often caused by arthritis or muscle spasm, but they also can be the result of an injury, tooth or jaw misalignment, or grinding or clenching of the teeth. In rare cases, tumors – often non-cancerous – can cause TMJ problems.

Diagnosing TMJ Disorders

After conducting a thorough examination that includes checking the jaw joints for tenderness, rigidity, clicking, and popping, the TMJ specialist may order MRI or CT imaging.

These advanced studies can help doctors identify the precise causes of pain, make more complete diagnoses, and create comprehensive, personalized treatment plans for patients.

Treatment for TMJ Disorders

No single treatment can resolve a TMJ disorder completely, and treatment takes time to be effective. Conservative ways to manage TMJ problems include:

  • Eating softer foods
  • Avoiding gum chewing and nail biting
  • Heat packs
  • Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or biofeedback to reduce tension in the jaw
  • Medications such as analgesics, muscle relaxants, and anti-inflammatory drugs

Treatments that can improve joint and muscle function include:

  • Occlusal splints, custom-made mouth guards that support the TMJ and muscles used for chewing
  • Dental braces to correctly align the teeth
  • Occlusal adjustments, procedures that prevent teeth from touching each other (occlusion)
  • Physical therapy, which can include exercises to improve joint function and reduce muscle rigidity as well as massage, electrical nerve stimulation, and heat/cold therapy
  • Oral surgery, which may be necessary with severe TMJ conditions to investigate the source of pain, remove inflamed tissue, repair the joint, or realign the jaw

UT Southwestern’s neurologists, neurosurgeons, and pain management specialists also treat patients with TMJ-related facial pain. Treatment for nerve injuries may include medication and surgery.

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