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What is TMJ Surgery?

By J.M. Willhite
Updated May 17, 2024
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Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) surgery is a procedure utilized to alleviate the discomfort associated with a variety of temporomandibular joint disorders and restore proper functionality to the joint. Individuals who develop a TMJ disorder generally experience pain and discomfort in their jaw and face due to the functional limitations created by the presence of the jaw disorder. TMJ surgery is generally reserved only for cases where traditional, non-invasive treatment options have failed to alleviate pain and discomfort. Surgical approach is entirely dependent on the type and severity of the disorder, as well as the history of the individual’s temporomandibular joint disorder.

Open TMJ surgery may be performed if an individual's TMJ symptoms are discovered to be caused by the presence of a growth, jaw fracture, or bone deterioration. This form of TMJ surgery is usually reserved for cases where extensive correction is necessary to promote proper joint functionality, such as comprehensive joint alignment or the removal of tissue or bone. Performed under general anesthesia, open TMJ surgery does carry risk for nerve damage and extensive scarring. The use of general anesthesia carries its own additional risks, including respiratory difficulty and stroke. Less invasive approaches to TMJ surgery include the utilization of arthroscopy and arthrocentesis.

The use of arthrocentesis is generally reserved for acute cases of TMJ in individuals who have no history of TMJ disorder, but whose condition significantly restricts jaw functionality. This type of TMJ surgery involves the administration of a sterile liquid to flush the joint and may necessitate the positioning of a block within the joint to prevent future TMJ issues, such as jaw locking. Arthroscopy generally necessitates the removal of irritated tissue within the joint and a minor adjustment of the TMJ.

Located on either side of the head, the temporomandibular joint connects the lower jaw to the temporal bone that projects down from the skull. A TMJ disorder may develop in the presence of a variety of factors including injury to the joint, habitually clenching of one’s teeth, and jaw muscle constriction that occurs in the presence of chronic stress. Regardless of the cause, a TMJ disorder generally presents with characteristic symptoms that vary only in degree of presentation.

Most individuals with a TMJ disorder experience a limitation of jaw functionality due to the pain and discomfort the disorder creates. Oftentimes, tenderness prevents the individual from being able to fully open his or her mouth as occurs when yawning. Symptomatic individuals may also develop a popping or grinding sound in their jaw when chewing or speaking. Additional signs of a TMJ disorder may include facial discomfort, swelling, and episodic locking of the jaw.

Traditional treatment for TMJ disorders generally involve the implementation of dietary and lifestyle changes, as well as the application of compresses and use of over-the-counter (OTC) analgesics to ease discomfort. Some individuals may require the use of a mouth guard when sleeping to prevent further damage to the joint as may occur when grinding one’s teeth. Behavioral changes may also be recommended, such as limiting jaw movement and avoiding placing unnecessary pressure on the affected joint. When such non-invasive treatments fail to alleviate symptoms, surgical correction may be necessary.

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Discussion Comments
By Heavanet — On Feb 11, 2015

@raynbow- Healing from TMJ surgery does require some time, but it is worth it. Pain can be managed easily with over-the-counter or prescription medications. Possibly the hardest thing to deal with after this surgery is the need to eat a liquid or soft diet for several weeks.

Whether or not your friend will have to have her jaws wired shut will depend on the type of TMJ surgery she has. While more extensive surgery will require this, not all TMJ procedures do. Your friend should discuss the details of her surgery with her doctor so she will know what to expect.

By Raynbow — On Feb 10, 2015

I have a friend who has to have TMJ surgery. She had been using a mouth guard to correct her problems, but it didn't help much. I'm wondering if this is a difficult procedure to recover from, because I have heard that some people have their jaws wired shut for several weeks after the surgery.

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