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What Are the Pros and Cons of Arthrocentesis for TMJ?

By Jennifer Long
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Arthrocentesis for the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a minor surgical procedure that is used when other non-surgical jaw joint treatments have been unsuccessful. The procedure can be beneficial for the disorder by reducing inflammation, removing joint space scarring, and improving jaw mobility. If the cartilage disc in the jaw has shifted, this procedure can also help put the disc back in its proper position. Drawbacks of an arthrocentesis procedure include pain and discomfort following the procedure as well as the possibility of complications such as muscle weakness, uncontrolled bleeding, and ear problems.

TMJ disorder affects the joint region of the jaw. It causes issues with the movement of the upper and lower sections of the joint. Standard treatments for TMJ include splints or mouth guards to correct misalignments and physical therapy to improve movement. When doctors do not see improvement through standard treatments, arthrocentesis for TMJ is often recommended.

There are many potential benefits to arthrocentesis for TMJ. The procedure is performed on an outpatient basis, often in the doctor’s office, which reduces costs that would accrue with a hospital stay. It involves two hypodermic needles placed into the problematic jaw joint. Sterile saline flows into the joint through one needle and out the other needle. This flushing can help in the removal of chemicals that cause inflammation and scar tissue that may be present in the joint cavity and also assist in repositioning a cartilage disc that may be out of position.

Benefits of arthrocentesis for TMJ also include reducing pressure and relieving pain. Pressure can occur due to inflammation, and pain can be experienced as a result of many symptoms, such as inflammation or a slipped disc. Many patients experience long-term relief from repairing the cause of symptoms. Some patients, however, may experience only temporary relief.

Although arthrocentesis for TMJ is beneficial to most patients, it also has some potential drawbacks. The symptoms experienced by many patients following the procedure are a common downside. Patients can expect the area of the treated joint to be sore and uncomfortable. Minor swelling is also possible. Stiffness can occur, causing complete function of the joint to be temporarily limited.

Potential complications that can occur with arthrocentesis for TMJ include weakness of the facial nerve, inflammation of the ear canal or rupturing of the ear drum, and uncontrollable bleeding in the joint. The facial muscle can be weakened if the facial nerve is injured during the procedure. Ear symptoms are often experienced due to the close proximity of the parts of the ear to the jaw joint. If uncontrolled bleeding occurs, immediate surgery is often required to repair the problem.

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