Patients with temporomandibular joint disorder or TMD may need some type of surgery to provide relief from painful symptoms. TMD surgery is isolated to the temporomandibular joint or TMJ, located where the lower jaw meets the temporal area of the skull. How long is TMJ surgery recovery time? It all depends on which procedure your surgeon recommends.
Types of TMJ Surgery
There are three surgical options to treat TMD: arthroscopy, arthroplasty and total joint replacement. All of these methods are performed by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. The first two are minimally or moderately invasive and are usually same-day procedures performed under general anesthesia. Total joint replacement, on the other hand, requires the patient to recuperate at a hospital for several days.
The most common and least invasive TMJ procedure is arthroscopy. With this technique, a small incision is made in front of the ear to allow for the insertion of a small instrument with a scope attached. This technique helps the surgeon explore for causes of jaw and joint pain, remove any inflamed tissue, and prepare for realignment if necessary. The British Association of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons (BAOMS) notes that there may be swelling and stiffness for a few days. Also, due to the anesthesia, it may take up for 48 hours for you to be able to drive again.
With an arthroplasty or "open joint" surgery, a larger incision is needed to expose the total joint for a better view. This helps facilitate repair or replacement of the disc which articulates this joint and allows you to open and close your jaw. Arthroplasty may also allow for realignment after disc displacement and removal of scar tissue or bone spurs. The recovery time from this TMJ surgery takes longer and may be more painful than an arthroscopy procedure.
BAOMS explains that patients may need to take a week off of work. A one- or two-night stay in the hospital may be required and you won't be able to eat anything for about a week, at which point the stitches will be removed. Bruising, swelling, tightness and stiffness could last about a week. Bleeding around the incision may occur the night after surgery, but it should stop after one day.
Total Joint Replacement
Total joint replacement of the TMJ is done in cases where the joint has degenerated from a traumatic injury, osteoarthritis or other irreparable damage. This surgery requires a three- to five-day stay in the hospital, and it can be over a month before you can resume activity. Your surgeon may even recommend wiring the jaw shut for a short period. You may want to plan to be out of work for six to eight weeks.
In the past, total joint replacement surgery was viewed as risky, often only considered as a last resort. However, a study released by the International Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeryfollowed 300 patients post-operatively for 10 years and found that rebuilding the joint with a total joint prosthesis showed significant improvement in range of motion, speech and diet for the majority of patients. No one reported severe pain after the six-month post-operative mark.
What to Expect During TMJ Surgery Recovery
TMJ surgery recovery time will vary from patient to patient. General complications like pain, bruising and infection can happen, and specific complications like jaw stiffness, numbness and tenderness can occur, as well. How soon you will recover depends on the type of surgery, but the swelling and major discomfort usually peaks after about two days.
At home, you should avoid strenuous activity, refrain from smoking and follow instructions to control pain and reduce inflammation. A soft or liquid diet may be advised, and you will be encouraged to follow an oral hygiene routine tailored to your post-operative abilities. Your surgeon might also prescribe physical therapy and jaw exercises. Brushing may be difficult, but do your best and swish with a mouthwash like Colgate Total Advanced Pro-Shield. It has no burn of alcohol and provides 12-hour protection against germs even after drinking and eating.
Although TMJ surgery and recovery takes time, the objective is to have a functioning and pain-free joint. This will lead to an overall improvement in your quality of life – also allowing for good oral hygiene, a healthy diet and a comfortable smile!