My experience of a disorder of the temporomandbular joint. (TMJ) Here I discuss problem, diagnosis and surgical arthroplasty of the joint.
What Is TMJ Disorder?
Have you ever experienced symptoms of pain, stiffness or a "clicking" sound in your jaw? If you answered yes, it could mean that you have temporomandibular (tem-puh-roe-man-DIB-u-lur) joint disorder (TMJ).
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the jaw hinge that connects your jawbone to your skull. There is a jaw joint hinge on each side of the face connecting the mandible and temporal bone by means of a socket and ball type joint.
Symptoms of pain and stiffness felt in the jaw, joint and the muscles surrounding the jaw hinge are usually diagnosed as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD).
With TMD, symptoms of pain are caused when the jaw joints and muscles that help you chew, move your jaw back and forward or side to side are not working together as they should.
Fortunately, in most cases, pain and discomfort associated with TMJ disorders can be self-managed without the need for surgery. For others, surgery might be necessary if all other methods of dealing with the pain have failed.
Here I explain the cause of my TMD which was a jaw dislocation also called a mandibular dislocation. I also talk about how it was diagnosed and the treatment I received.
Main Causes of TMJ Pain
It is difficult to determine the exact cause of TMD as the pain could be the result of many factors such as arthritis, genetics or a jaw injury.
Some TMJ problems can be overlooked and for that reason, it is important to have any persistent jaw pain investigated by your doctor.
My Experience With TMJ
I was eighteen when I first started having problems with my jaw. The first symptoms I noticed was a terrible ache in my jaw that continued for months. My jaw also often felt stiff painful when I chewed food. I had difficulty opening my mouth wide enough to put food into it.
One day I was at my local hospital visiting a friend and I was really tired and stifling my yawns. I yawned a wide yawn and as I did, I heard and felt a click and I could not close my mouth. I tried to hide my face in my hands to cover the fact that my mouth was wide open as I imagined the sight would scare everyone on the ward.
To make everything look more grotesque than it could by just having my mouth wide open, the muscles in my neck and back went into spasms and my face was pulled back to the point that I was involuntarily facing the ceiling. I was put in a wheelchair and brought before a doctor. I could not see his face as he spoke to me because my neck muscles in spasm meant that I could only see the ceiling, and my mouth was wide open and I felt terrified.
I heard the doctor telling me to go home and relax and my mouth would shut. It did not shut and I could not eat, drink or swallow. At home, with a gaping mouth, I tried putting the bottom of my jaw on the floor and put a lot of pressure on my head to try and force my jaw back into place but I just caused more pain.
After two days of agonising pain and growing hunger and thirst, I went back to the hospital with a note I had written pleading for help because I could not speak with my mouth locked wide open. As I stood in reception trying to get help, I heard someone say, 'I know what has happened to her, bring her into my room.'
The doctor wrapped his thumbs in gauze, and I allowed him to go inside my mouth and under my tongue where he put immense pressure. When he let go of my mouth I felt it slowly closing and I cried with relief.
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Arthroplasty: Open Jaw Joint Surgery
After my jaw dislocated a third time I had an x-ray which revealed a problem that would need surgery. The doctor explained that I was missing a joint socket and would need my jaw rebuilding.
I had joint arthroplasty surgery done in a hospital under general anaesthetic. Arthroplasty means the replacement or reconstruction of a joint.
The surgeon made an incision in the back of my ear so he could reveal and work on the damaged jaw bone. After surgery, I woke up to a drain attached to my temple and this was removed after a few hours. I had no problems after surgery and there was no visible scar but I did have two black eyes.
I have a titanium screw in my jaw that I can feel by touch. It does not cause me any problems and does not set off airport scanners which initially I thought it would.
My jaw was stiff and a little uncomfortable for a few days but not too painful. I was advised to only eat soft foods and soups for a week or so and to take it easy. After a week I could eat more solid foods and I have not had any problems since.
Possible Problems Of Arthroplasty
Potential complications of arthroplasty are rare but it is better to be aware of them.
Bleeding from the incision is to be expected and is normal, however, any bleeding after leaving hospital can usually be dealt with by applying pressure to the incision area using a clean handkerchief.
For a while, there can be a sensation of numbing or tingling of the earlobe. This is because the auricular nerve that supplies feeling to the earlobe might be bruised after surgery. This will heal and normal feelings to the earlobe resume. Most nerve damage is temporary but in rare cases permanent nerve damage is possible.
There is a risk of Infection so keep the area clean and dry. Should you manage to get an infection the doctor can prescribe antibiotics.
Facial Nerve Damage
There is a risk of damage to a facial nerve that runs very close to the joint. This nerve is what enables the muscles in the face to work. Damage to this nerve can affect and weaken the muscles of your face.
Nerve damage through this surgery is rare and if damage does occur it is usually temporary and can take a few months to fully recover.
Thirty Years After Arthroplasty
Thirty years on from surgery I have had no problems. I can yawn and eat normally without problems or risk of dislocation.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Louise Elcross (author) from Preston on June 18, 2020:
Thanks Pamela. I am grateful not to worry about my jaw dislocating.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 18, 2020:
What an awful experience! This is a very interesting article as you told us about your horrible experience with your TMJ, Louise. I have known people who had pain and some problem with that joint but never quite the problem you had. I am glad you have had no probem since that time.