Humans have temporomandibular joints locating directly in front of their ears. These joints form a hinge that allows you to open and close your jaw. Under normal conditions, your TMJ operates fluidly and without pain. However, people can develop TMJ disorders that are characterized by pain, stiffness, and an unusual popping sensation. Your dentist is the perfect person to diagnose and treat TMJ disorders. Here are four things a dentist can do to help you:

1. Diagnose the problem.

The first step to finding relief from jaw pain is to receive a proper diagnosis. When you arrive at your dentist's office complaining of jaw pain, they will ask you to describe your symptoms in detail. After listening to your symptoms, your dentist may want to explore your jaw themselves. They may place their hands over your TMJ and ask you to open and close your mouth. By feeling your joint as it moves, your dentist can detect abnormalities.

If your dentist's findings are inconclusive, they may want to perform an arthroscopic exploration. This is a minor surgical procedure that uses a small arthroscopic camera inserted beneath your skin. Your dentist will use the camera to inspect your TMJ for signs of damage.

2. Create a custom mouthguard.

TMJ disorders can develop for a number of reasons. However, sometimes these conditions are caused or worsened by a patient's tendency to clench their jaw. If your dentist believes bruxism and jaw clenching are contributing to your jaw pain, they may suggest that you wear a mouthguard while you sleep. A mouthguard will cushion the impact of your teeth, encouraging you to relax your jaw. Wearing a mouthguard custom-fitted to your mouth can relieve your pain.

3. Suggest non-invasive remedies.

There are other things that patients with TMJ disorders can do to relieve their discomfort. Chewing sugar-free gum can keep your jaw from becoming tense. Many patients find that a moderate amount of gum-chewing improves their symptoms. Your dentist may also suggest that you apply a hot compress to your jaw to relieve discomfort. You may be prescribed muscle relaxants to encourage your jaw muscles to unclench.

4. Offer a surgical solution.

Some people experience persistent jaw pain despite trying other remedies. When nothing else alleviates your TMJ disorder, your dentist may suggest surgery. Arthroscopic surgery may be an option. This method of surgery is often preferred because it's less invasive than other forms of surgery and offers a shorter healing time.

For more information about TMJ dental treatment, contact a local dental office.