What Is TMJ Arthroscopy?

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If you suffer from jaw joint pain that hasn't responded to non-invasive treatments, your dentist may recommend TMJ (temporomandibular joint) arthroscopy. This is an outpatient surgery that requires a general anesthetic, and it allows the dental surgeon to see into the jaw joint before possibly removing or adjusting tissue as necessary to relieve the patient's pain. Not all TMJ surgeries are successful, so dentists usually advise patients to exhaust other options before trying the treatment.

Surgery Procedure

Though TMJ arthroscopy is a surgical procedure, it is minimally invasive. When the general anesthetic has taken effect and the patient is unconscious, the surgeon makes a small cut just in front of the ear. Then, they insert a very thin tube that contains a video lens and a light, and views the inside of the jaw joint on a video monitor.

What the surgeon sees within the jaw joint determines the next course of action. They may make another small incision and insert instruments to remove inflamed tissue and rinse the area, or the surgeon may adjust parts of the jaw joint that are misaligned.

Why Dentists Recommend TMJ Arthroscopy

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that 10 million Americans have temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), and for a few sufferers, non-invasive treatments don't provide relief. Jaw injuries, arthritis, poor teeth alignment, tension and stress, and tumors are some of the major causes of TMD. The Mayo Clinic lists several medical, psychological and appliance-related treatments, including antiinflammatory and pain medications, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, counseling, mouth guards, oral splints and physical therapy. Yet for some patients, none of these treatments ease or permanently relieve the pain and limited joint movement of TMD.

When non-invasive treatment options are exhausted, your dentist may recommend TMJ arthroscopy as one of the possible surgical options. Other surgical TMD treatments are arthrocentesis, which involves the insertion of small needles, corticosteroid injections, jaw surgery and open jaw joint surgery. You can discuss with your dentist why TMJ arthroscopy may be the best surgical option for alleviating your jaw joint problems.

What Questions to Ask Your Dentist

Before agreeing to TMJ arthroscopy, you may want reassurance that you're making the right decision. Some questions you could ask your dentist include:

  • What are the potential benefits of the surgery?
  • What are the risks?
  • Are there any other treatment options?
  • What is the recovery period?
  • When should you expect to notice an improvement, if the surgery is successful?

What Happens Before TMJ Surgery?

According to The TMJ Association, you should have an opportunity before your TMJ surgery to talk with the surgeon about what will happen. The anesthetist should also pay a visit to explain the anesthetic procedure. You can use this time to ask your surgeon and anesthetist any remaining questions you have. Then you receive medication to help you relax before being taken to the operating theater.

TMD often makes it difficult to open the mouth wide for brushing and flossing. Before and after surgery, use a toothbrush that cleans hard-to-reach areas of the mouth, like the Colgate 360° Total Advanced Floss-Tip Bristles toothbrush.

Surgery to cure or relieve TMD is often last in a long line of attempted treatments. Though the surgery isn't something to be undertaken lightly, some patients feel the potential benefits are worth the temporary discomfort after the operation. If TMD affects your quality of life, TMJ surgery might provide the relief you need.

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Top Ways To Alleviate TMD SYMPTOMS

While there is no single cure for TMD, there are different treatments that may reduce your symptoms dramatically. Your dentist may recommend one or more of the following:

  • Medication – trying to eliminate muscle spasm and pain by applying moist heat or taking medication, such as muscle relaxants, aspirin, other over-the-counter pain-relievers or anti-inflammatory drugs.

  • Wear a night guard – reduce the harmful effects of tooth clenching and grinding by wearing a night guard or splint.

  • Relax – learning relaxation techniques to help control muscle tension in the jaw. Your dentist may suggest you seek training or counseling to help eliminate stress.