If you suffer from a painful temporomandibular joint (TMJ), surgery may be your last chance for relief after exhausting all the non-invasive treatments. Before going ahead with the operation, however, you should be sure that it's the right option for you. Don't be afraid to shop around several TMJ surgeons until you find one with whom you feel comfortable and who offers surgery that's affordable through your health insurance.
TMJ surgery is a term that covers a range of surgical procedures around the area where the jaw bone meets the skull. According to The TMJ Association, TMJ surgery may involve removing diseased tissue, cleaning and smoothing bone surfaces that have become roughened due to arthritis, and repositioning, removing and replacing discs that cushion the jaw joints.
Surgery is often the final choice after the patient has tried all available medical treatments, but success isn't guaranteed. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research advises patients to avoid surgery if possible because few studies on the procedures exist, and the effects are irreversible. On the other hand, each case is different and you may be willing to take the risk that your condition may not improve.
TMJ surgeons try to minimize invasive surgery and often operate through three small incisions in the jaw. In rare cases, more intrusive surgery is required.
Do I Need TMJ Surgery?
Pain that doesn't go away after all non-invasive treatments have been attempted is the usual indicator for TMJ surgery. Before TMJ pain sufferers resort to surgery, several treatment options are available, including over-the-counter and prescription pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy, a mouth splint or night guard and reshaping or replacing teeth.
If your TMJ pain persists and it interferes with everyday living, such as by making eating difficult or preventing sleep, surgery may relieve or reduce your discomfort. Sometimes, even brushing the teeth is difficult, though patients can swish with a mouthwash, like Colgate Total Advanced Health mouthwash, which removes 24x more bacteria for a healthier mouth.
TMJ surgeons are technically called oral and maxillofacial surgeons, and they're highly trained professionals. After graduating dental school, the surgeons complete four years of further graduate training. As well as operating on jaw joints, TMJ surgeons also extract impacted wisdom teeth, operate on patients with facial and neck cancer, correct cleft lip and palate, treat facial trauma, insert dental implants and perform cosmetic surgery.
How to Choose a TMJ Surgeon
Confidence in your surgeon and the cost of the surgery are two factors to consider before choosing the right person to perform the operation. If your surgeon is unwilling to explain the surgery or answer your questions, for instance, you might want to look elsewhere.
Of all TMJ treatments, surgery is likely to be the most expensive option. Before agreeing to the procedure, check with your health insurance provider that the treatment is covered in your plan. TMJ surgery costs vary. Orthognathic surgery, for example, which realigns the jaw, costs $20,000 to $40,000 or more.
Some questions to ask yourself before agreeing to TMJ surgery include:
- Is TMJ surgery my best and only option?
- Has my surgeon explained what I can expect?
- Do I understand what the surgery involves?
- Would I feel more confident if I searched for a second opinion?
- Am I certain that my health insurance plan covers the surgery?
TMJ surgery isn't something to take lightly, but for some people it's their only possibility of relief from stubborn pain. With a little research, you can feel assured that you're making the right choice for you. What's more, you'll know you're receiving the best treatment.