Most jaw pain related to temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ) is caused by sore muscles. When your jaw muscles can’t relax, they will get sore, which causes the persistent jaw pain, facial pain, and headaches that people often complain about.
One potential treatment that is sometimes recommended to relax tense jaw muscles is muscle relaxant drugs. Although these can work, they often come with significant side effects that make them undesirable, especially when there are other alternatives that can work as well or better.
Muscle Relaxants and Their Side Effects
There are many potential muscle relaxants that can be used for TMJ. Two of the most common are cyclobenzaprine (Amrix and Fexmid) and diazepam (Valium).
One of the problems with muscle relaxants is that their mechanism isn’t specific to the jaw region. When you take muscle relaxants, they enter your body and get metabolized so they travel throughout the body, impacting not just the regions where you want them, but many other systems as well. This leads to potentially serious side effects.
With cyclobenzaprine, the most common side effects include:
- Dry mouth
However, there are also less common side effects, such as.
- Abdominal pain
- Blurred vision
In addition, it can cause a potentially deadly interaction with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), a less common antidepressant.
Diazepam is most commonly prescribed for TMJ as part of its as an anti-anxiety drug. The focus is on the role of anxiety in teeth clenching and grinding, but also taking benefit of the anti-spasmodic benefits of diazepam. Some of the side effects of diazepam include:
- Memory loss
- Cognitive impairment
- Loss of inhibitions
But diazepam has several other significant drawbacks. First, it is processed in the liver, and it can be stressful on the organ, so people with liver problems should avoid it and other similarly damaging benzodiazepines (less stressful alternatives exist). Diazepam has a significant potential for addiction and abuse, and people may experience withdrawal symptoms after just four weeks of use.
Alternatives to Muscle Relaxants
There are many other muscle relaxants available, but all have similar side effects and drawbacks. Fortunately, there are alternatives.
One alternative is the use of BOTOX ® injections. BOTOX is, essentially, a muscle relaxant, although it operates differently than most muscle relaxant drugs. It also has a very localized area of effect, so it doesn’t cause systemic side effects. When it comes to safe interventions for muscle relaxation, BOTOX is definitely one of the best in terms of its potential side effects. It has a very low incidence of adverse effects.
But even better than a BOTOX injection is an electronic massage, offered by TENS. This helps your muscles massage themselves with gentle contractions, leading to pain relief and reduced tension. Sometimes, this is enough to relieve your TMJ symptoms. Other times, discomfort can return.
That’s when we look at the reason why your jaw is so tense all the time and try to cure the actual cause. One of the reasons why your jaw muscles may be so tense is that there’s an imbalance in the jaw. The jaw is trying to find a comfortable rest position, but can’t because the way the teeth fit together essentially gets in the way of achieving that relaxed jaw position.
We have sophisticated tools that can measure muscle tension in each of your jaw muscles and can tell us where the exact position of maximum rest is for your jaw. We can fashion an oral splint that helps your jaw sit in that position so it stays relaxed.
If you want, then we can talk about altering the size and shape of your teeth to achieve the same result without the splint.
Drug-Free TMJ Treatment Is Available
If you’re experiencing TMJ symptoms, don’t make a pill your first approach to treatment. We offer many alternatives that can help you get relief without drugs.
To learn how we can help relieve your jaw tension, please call (201) 343-4044 today for an appointment with River Edge TMJ dentist Dr. Marlen Martirossian at the River Edge Dental Center for TMJ, Sleep Apnea, & Reconstructive Dentistry.