Ideally, TMJ treatment should take place before we have to resort to surgery. However, sometimes when treatment is postponed, or if the disorder is severe enough, surgery is the best treatment option. That’s why it’s good to know that surgical treatments are continuing to be refined, including the addition of fat grafting to the use of artificial temporomandibular joints.
Temporomandibular Joint Ankylosis
The effectiveness of this treatment was shown in a recent study. This study looked at 32 patients (22 female and 10 male) who had a total of 48 stiff temporomandibular joints. These patients weren’t completely immobile as a rule, but they were very limited–they could open their incisors by just over half an inch. They were also suffering from other common TMJ symptoms. They reported jaw pain at 8 and headaches at 8 on a 10-point scale.
Most (53%) of the patients had developed TMJ as a result of trauma.The median age was 39 years, and they’d been trying to get their TMJ treated for a while–on average they had already had two previous (unsuccessful) TMJ surgeries before the current experiment.
The improvement patients experienced from the combination of joint replacement and fat grafting. Their ability to open their jaw improved to an average of nearly an inch and a half. Their jaw pain reduced to a subjective rating of 1.5 and headaches reduced to 2.5 on a 10-point scale.
Follow-up ranging from 12 months to 168 months after the procedure also shows the potential for long-lasting relief.
Avoiding TMJ Surgery
Although these results are promising, the study doesn’t lead us to believe that TMJ surgery is a desirable treatment. There are still risks of complications, and the fact that the average patient in this study had a total of three surgeries before they saw success. So, whenever possible, it’s best to avoid TMJ surgery.
One common reason why people end up needing surgery is that they either ignore their symptoms or try to perform home care for their symptoms for too long. Never ignore TMJ symptoms, and if your symptoms persist for over a week, worsen under home care, or recur, it’s important to get professional care.
Fortunately, most cases of TMJ can be treated without having to resort to surgery. We can use noninvasive treatments like TENS (a kind of electronic muscle massage) and a bite splint to relieve symptoms and prevent the progression of TMJ. It’s only when we’re unable to get results that we have to refer patients for surgery.