Ideally, temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ) should be treated before surgery is necessary. Currently, surgery for the condition is very unsuccessful. But a recent discovery at the University of California at Irvine may make TMJ surgery much more successful and could lead to better results from other joint surgeries as well.

Why TMJ Surgery Is So Unsuccessful

Currently, TMJ surgery typically gives very poor results. The surgery has high complication rates and low functional recovery rates.

These surgeries involve replacing the temporomandibular joint with an artificial replacement. The jaw joints are among the most complex in the body, allowing movement in many different directions. Artificial replacements just can’t match the same degree of motions necessary.

That’s why researchers at UCI hope to repair the natural joint rather than replace it.

Disc Damage Repaired

TMJ treatment normally turns to surgery when the cartilage in the jaw joint is damaged. This cartilage disc has a unique structure, different from the cartilage in most joints. When it is damaged, the jaw can’t function properly. It may have limited motion, irregular motion, or pain during motion. Each motion can also lead to bone damage as the bones grind against each other.

But UCI researchers hope they’ve found a way to repair the cartilage in the jaw joint, restoring function. They took rib cartilage cells taken from one animal. Using a self-assembly technique, they built these cells into a new jaw joint disc. The cartilage was then introduced into animals whose jaws were damaged.

Within two months, the animals receiving the tissue graft had their cartilage completely repaired. However, the animals who didn’t get the tissue graft, experienced a 300% increase in jaw joint damage.

From Experiment to Common Technique

Right now, this treatment is in the early stages of development. Although it had a successful test in animals, there are still many steps it has to go through to prove it’s a safe and effective treatment for humans.

Researchers need to make sure that the results hold up over the long term. The reversal of damage would sure seem like a long-term improvement, but we won’t know until it actually gets tested. If long-term testing seems good, including only small numbers of complications over time, then human testing can begin.

Human testing takes place in three phases. The first phase checks to make sure the technique is safe for humans, while the second phase checks to make sure it’s actually effective. The thirds phase is longer and has more subjects to evaluate the cost/benefit balance for the treatment.

Researchers say they believe that Orange County is an ideal place for the technique to be translated into a workable treatment option for TMJ sufferers.

Early Treatment Can Help You Avoid Surgery

This new TMJ surgical technique is promising, but it’s still a long way from being a practical option. In the meantime, people need to take care of their jaw joints and postpone or eliminate the need for surgery. Fortunately, at Rice Dentistry we offer nonsurgical TMJ treatment that can protect your jaw joint from damage, including the disc of cartilage that is currently so hard to replace.

If you are experiencing TMJ symptoms in Orange County, please call (949) 551-5902 today for an appointment with a TMJ dentist at Rice Dentistry in Irvine.