How Dentists Treat TMJ Pain

The temporomandibular joint or TMJ is located in front of the ear, right at the base of the skull. It is the hinge-like joint that connects the upper and lower jaws. Thanks to this joint, the jaw is able to move up and down or from side to side. The TMJ also enables the jaws to move forward and backward.

Sometimes, this joint and the muscles that surround it ache. A person may experience a tender jaw that is sometimes accompanied by a migraine-like headache. If the person experiences the pain for an extended period of time, they may have TMJ pain.

Symptoms of TMJ

While a dentist is the only person who can give a definite diagnosis of TMJ pain, there are some signs that will tell a person to visit the dentist. They are:

  • Jaw muscles that are tender and sore
  • Jaws that click when opened or closed
  • Jaws that lock in place and make it hard for a person to open or close their mouths
  • Limited movement in the jaw
  • A persistent headache that causes the eyes and ears to ache as well

If a person experiences one or more of these symptoms for an extended period of time, they should seek medical attention.


A dentist will ask the patient about their symptoms, and how long they have had them. The dentist will then perform a physical exam that involves palpating the areas around the jaw to pinpoint sore spots and checking if the jaw can move the way it is supposed to. The dentist will also listen and feel for clicking as the patient opens and shuts their mouth.

The dentist may order an x-ray, an MRI or a CT scan to look for problems in the jaws or other parts of the head. In some cases, a dentist may examine the space between the jaws with an optical scope to check for inflammation or debris.

Treatment of TMJ disorder

Often, the treatment of TMJ pain is a combination of therapies, medication and surgical procedures.


A muscle relaxant is often used to manage the pain or stop spasms in the jaw muscles. If the jaw pain is caused by inflammation, a dentist will prescribe corticosteroid injections to remove the swelling and the pain. If the TMJ disorder is caused by bruxism, a dentist may use Botox injections to stop the jaw muscles from clenching.

Therapeutic treatments

Therapy is used to correct problems with jaw alignment or to strengthen the jaw muscles. An example of therapeutic treatment for TMJ is the use of orthodontic appliances like a mouth guard or headgear. The dentist may also prescribe physiotherapy techniques like jaw exercises to strengthen and stretch the muscles surrounding the jaw.

If the TMJ disorder is caused by stress-induced jaw clenching, then the doctor will recommend psychotherapy and other stress reduction techniques. If the dentist cannot treat the patient with medication and therapy alone, they will choose to use surgical procedures.

Medical procedures

In severe cases, a maxillofacial dental surgeon will treat TMJ disorder with:

1. Arthrocentesis: This is the use of small needles to irrigate the temporomandibular joint and wash away any debris and inflammation from the joint. The needles are injected into space within the TMJ in a minimally invasive procedure.

2. Arthroscopic surgery: It is a minimally invasive surgery that begins with inserting a thin tube into the joint space and passing a scope and surgical instruments through the tube. The surgeon then uses the scope to see inside the joint. They proceed to perform the surgery without opening the jaw.

3. The surgeon may choose to correct the TMJ by operating on the jawbone.

4. If the problem is very severe, the surgeon will perform open joint surgery to repair or even replace the joint.

TMJ can be managed or treated

Once a dentist or a maxillofacial surgeon finds the cause of the TMJ disorder, they will create a treatment plan to deal with the pain. If you are dealing with constant jaw pain, visit us to get a diagnosis and relief from the pain.

Request an appointment here: or call Professional Dental Care at (559) 467-1234 for an appointment in our Fresno office.

Check out what others are saying about our dental services on Yelp: TMJ Dentist.

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