TMJ injections and conservative care treatments

Ross A. Hauser, MD. Danielle R. Steilen-Matias, MMS, PA-C.

We often see patients with varying degrees of, and medical histories of, TMJ syndrome or TMD (Temporomandibular joint dysfunction). They tell us about how their TMJ developed, whether it was from extensive dental work, a traumatic injury suffered in an accident, or other reasons such as a history of teeth grinding that has led to degenerative joint disease of the jaw. They may also tell us about frequent jaw dislocations and problems with their neck. They also tell us about a lot of treatments that did not work for them.

Because the cure for TMD has been so elusive, perhaps no other disorder involves so many allied healthcare professionals including pain clinicians, dentists, physical therapists, psychologists, mental health professionals, speech-language pathologists, physiatrists, radiologists, internists, family physicians, endodontists, orofacial surgeons, otolaryngologists, neurologists, and craniofacial specialists.

Later in this article, we will show that the problem with any of these approaches is that they do not repair the weakened TMJ ligament and, thus, do not alleviate the chronic pain that people with this condition experience. Thus, most dentists and oral surgeons believe that TMJ cannot be cured and the best hope is for temporary symptom relief. This takes us back to the research we cited earlier on physical therapy. If you do not look for tendon attachment and ligament damage in the jaw and cervical neck areas, the patient’s TMJ/TMD-related pain will be considered difficult to treat and the treatments will move onto symptom suppression, not disorder healing. This will include the standard practice of steroids and anti-inflammatory medications. However, in the long run, these treatments do more damage than good. Cortisone shots and anti-inflammatory drugs have been shown to produce short-term pain benefits, but both result in long-term loss of function and even more chronic pain by actually inhibiting the healing process of soft tissues and accelerating cartilage degeneration.

In this article, we will discuss these treatments and the possible solutions regenerative medicine injections may offer.

Article Summary:

Part 1: Treating TMJ, success and failures: When doctors made the TMJ worse

  • Successful, but unnecessary overtreatment?
  • When treatment is not successful: For some people, their doctors may have found it inconceivable that they did not respond to the treatments they offered and may recommend a psychiatric examination.

Part 2: Bruxism and chronic inflammation

  • The problem of fluid buildup, a jaw joint trying to stabilize by swelling is a chronic and long-term problem of the degenerative joint disease
  • Instead of treating the inflammation, find the cause of the inflammation and treat that.
  • Bruxism and chronic inflammation: There is a connection between inflammation and bruxism. It is just hard to prove.
  • Where there is inflammation, there is corticosteroids. Can steroid injections make TMJ pain worse?

Part 3: Non-surgical conservative treatment methods for TMJ

  • A comparison of the outcomes of four minimally invasive treatment methods for anterior disc displacement of the temporomandibular joint. Why didn’t they help some people? Was it Inflammation?
  • There is currently no consensus on the best treatment for painful temporomandibular disc displacement with reduction.
  • Photobiomodulation therapy
  • Duloxetine
  • Craniocervical physical therapy in patients with myofascial temporomandibular pain disorders. Focus on muscle spasms.
  • The evidence and comparisons of TMJ injection treatments.
  • Injections into the masticatory muscles, and injections into the temporomandibular joints.
  • Steroids, Hyaluronic acid injections, and Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy.
  • Hyaluronic injections vs. glucosamine and oral NSAID.
  • BOTOX® – Botulinum toxin injections for TMJ.
  • Acupuncture for TMJ disorders.

Part 4: The research on Prolotherapy, PRP, Blood injections, and MSCs for Temporomandibular Joint Pain and Dysfunction

  • “Intra-articular dextrose injection (Prolotherapy) resulted in substantial improvement in jaw pain, function, and maximal interincisal opening (MIO) compared with masked control injection at 3 months; clinical improvements endured to 12 months. Satisfaction was high.”
  • “I would consider referring a patient with chronic temporomandibular pain for dextrose injection if a clinician with experience in this procedure were available.”
  • Hypermobility, disc displacement, effusion or swelling, and instability of the TMJ.
  • Prolotherapy Injections versus the TMJ splint
  • Hypermobility, disc displacement, effusion or swelling, and instability of the TMJ.
  • Prolotherapy and aspiration (arthrocentesis) provided significant relief for TMJ patients.
  • Prolotherapy, PRP, and mesenchymal stem cell-based treatment.
  • Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy for TMJ.
  • PRP and hyaluronic acid injections.
  • PRP combined with physical therapy
  • Autologous blood injections.

Part 1: Treating TMJ, success and failures: When doctors made the TMJ worse

It is the recommendation of The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, a branch of the US government’s National Institutes of Health, that less treatment is best in treating TMJ disorders. They recommend that patients avoid treatments that cause permanent changes in the bite or jaw. Such treatments include crown and bridge work to balance the bite, orthodontics to change the bite, grinding down teeth to bring the bite into balance (occlusal adjustment), and repositioning splints, which permanently change the bite. They also state that finding the right care can be difficult, and they recommend looking for a healthcare provider who understands musculoskeletal disorders (affecting muscle, bone, and joints) and is trained in treating pain conditions. Pain clinics in hospitals and universities are often a good source of advice.

We often find that we are in agreement with the first part of this recommendation, the latter part we find ourselves frequently in disagreement with it. TMJ has always been and will continue to be like other chronic painful disorders: a joint instability issue. Until this is addressed, treatment regimes will continue to be pain management and not pain cure.

TMJ instability

Part 1: Treating TMJ, success and failures: When doctors made the TMJ worse

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry and the Department of Biomedical Technologies, School of Dentistry, University of Siena, Italy wrote in a 2021 paper in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation (1) that some of the problems TMJ sufferers have were caused by their doctors. This is noted in the paper’s opening sentence: “Based on a variety of studies conducted in recent years, some of the factors that might contribute to the negative treatment responses of some TMD patients have been (now been understood). . . Regarding iatrogenesis (complication caused by medical treatment), sins of omission may influence the clinical picture, with the main ones being misdiagnosis and undertreatment. Joint repositioning strategies, occlusal modifications, abuse of oral appliances, use of diagnostic technologies, nocebo effect (the patient does not think the treatment will work), and complications with intracapsular treatments are the most frequent sins of commission that may contribute to chronification (worsening pain) of TMDs.” See below for their 2023 paper continuing on this topic.

Again, while getting a cortisone shot, taking an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication), or using an occlusal splint or other appliance might seem harmless, it truly isn’t because the underlying etiological diagnosis goes missing: TMJ instability. When the standard treatments such as those just mentioned don’t work, some doctors may be quick to recommend an innovative surgical option, because of all the internal derangement or other osteoarthritis seen on MRI.

The mutilation of jaws that I have seen by surgery is unconscionable. I have seen people who have had their condyles taken off and when they chew, the rest of their jaw just flaps in the wind. Surgical and medical treatments from the past have included meniscectomies, retracting the condyle with a steel headband or even wiring the jaws shut for months, psychotherapy, multidisciplinary teams, complete resection of the articular meniscus, amputation of the condylar heads leaving the discs intact, reconstructive surgeries to “recapture the articular disc,” disc replacements using plastic implants, and the list goes on and on.

malocclusion TMJ

Unfortunately, people with TMD end up with these surgeries and other invasive procedures because the imaging studies on their jaws show something “terrible.” Such diagnostic tests include radiographs of the TMJ with and without appliances, various x-ray views including panoramic, transcranial, and oblique views, laminographic studies, CT MRI of the TMJ, dynamic arthrography, mandibular kinesiography, EMG of mastication muscles, and thermography. This does not even include all the diagnostic criteria a dentist uses to show how “off” one’s bite is. There is a strong correlation between abnormal joints and a history of orthodontics. It is now recommended by many in the dental profession to eliminate the patient’s TMJ pain and dysfunction before initiating any type of orthodontic mechanics. It should be noted that throughout my career and even right now, there are still dentists and others who believe malocclusion is the cause of TMD. While I acknowledge it can be involved, it is rarely—and I mean rarely—the cause. It is actually the other way around! Instability in the TMJ causes malocclusion.

Quick note:

  • temporomandibular disc displacement with reduction, the disc moves forward and is displaced, with reduction it returns. It is characterized by the popping, clicking noises common in TMJ.
  • temporomandibular disc displacement without reduction, the disc moves forward and is displaced and stays there. This causes limited mouth opening and locking (referred to as a “closed lock”) pain and an alteration of the TMJ complex.

Successful, but unnecessary overtreatment?

In October 2023, the same research team as the 2021 paper continued this line of study in the Journal of Oral & Facial Pain and Headache. (2) They describe how “some management practices in the field of orofacial musculoskeletal disorders (also described as temporomandibular disorders [TMDs]) are based on concepts about occlusal relationships (the contact between teeth), condyle positions, or functional guidance; for some patients, these procedures may be producing successful outcomes in terms of symptom reduction, but in many cases, they can be examples of unnecessary overtreatment.” Briefly, the researchers suggest that many surgical procedures, while producing happy results for many patients, may have been the wrong choice because of the complications of the procedure. They suggest the same results could have been achieved with less medical intervention, (conservative care vs. surgery) and less risk of complication to the patient.

When treatment is not successful: For some people, their doctors may have found it inconceivable that they did not respond to the treatments they offered and may recommend a psychiatric examination.

Someone who has been suffering from long-term TMJ problems, at some point, starts to realize that their challenges are challenges far beyond a disc or a TMJ appliance problem. When this person then has a failed TMJ surgery, these challenges they face become that much greater, and their jaw problem that started out as an annoyance has turned into years of searching for anything that will help them with the new cascade of symptoms they suffer from beyond opening their mouths without pain.

TMJ surgery and appliances do help people. But these are not the patients we see in our clinic. We see the people TMJ surgery and appliances did not help. These are people, perhaps like yourself, whose TMJ has turned into a problem of headaches, neck pain, difficulty swallowing, and dizziness. For some of these people, their doctors may have found it inconceivable that they did not respond to the treatments they offered and may recommend a psychiatric examination. Generally speaking, if you are searching for a cure for your problem, your problem is not “all in your head.”

  • Throughout this article, we are going to start making connections to a different approach to your treatment.
  • Our connection is that perhaps your standard care treatments did not help you because the problems caused by degenerated and damaged TMJ ligaments were not addressed.
  • In 30-plus years of experience helping patients with TMJ, we have found undiagnosed, damaged ligaments to cause jaw instability and excessive, unnatural mobility in the jaw joint. This causes grinding disc displacement and osteoarthritis.

Part 2: Bruxism and chronic inflammation

TMD is often described as an internal derangement (joint misalignment), which is a problem with the articular disc in an abnormal position, leading to mechanical interference and restriction of mandibular activity. Internal derangement typically causes continuous pain that will be exacerbated by jaw movement. Clicking and locking will result in restricted mandibular opening or deviation of mandibular movements during opening and closing. While there are nomenclature systems that divide TMD into classification systems including disc derangements, hypermobility disorders (subluxations), and hypomobility conditions (adhesions and ankyloses), some doctors believe ultimately what initially causes all of these conditions is joint instability of the TMJ.

Understanding the TMJ temporomandibular joint itself. What are we seeing in this image?

In this simplified view of the TMJ, we can get an understanding of the mechanisms behind TMJ disc displacement. When this person would close their mouth, they would get the characteristic clicking sound and accompanying “pop” or feeling of displacement. See that the disc in this image has ligaments behind it. The ligaments are there to provide structural stability between the jaw bone at the skull. The ligaments are holding the jaw to the skull. In front of the disc towards the face are the powerful jaw muscles. Attaching these power muscles to the jaw are the muscle tendons. Notice how the muscle turns white as they approach the bone. The tendons are the muscles attached to the bones and they are white. They hold the muscles to the jaw. If the ligaments or tendons are weak, damaged, stretched out, or lax, the jaw is floating, and the disc can be displaced.

In this simplified view of the TMJ, we can get an understanding of the mechanisms behind TMJ disc displacement. When this person would close their mouth, they would get the characteristic clicking sound and accompanying "pop" or feeling of displacement. See that the disc in this image has ligaments behind it. The ligaments are there to provide the structural stability between the jaw bone at the skull. The ligaments are holding the jaw to the skull. In front of the disc towards the face are the powerful jaw muscles. Attaching these power muscles to the jaw are the muscle tendons. Notice how the muscle turns white as they approach the bone. The tendons are the muscles attachments to the bones and they are white in color. They hold the muscles to the jaw. If the ligaments or tendons are weak, damaged, stretched out, or lax, the jaw is floating, the disc can be displaced.

The temporomandibular joint connects the mandible (lower jaw) to the part of the skull known as the temporal bone. The joint allows the lower jaw to move in all directions so that the teeth can bite off and chew food efficiently. The temporomandibular joint syndrome occurs when the joints, muscles, and ligaments involved do not work together properly, resulting in pain. Temporomandibular joint syndrome and TMD or TemporoMandibular Disorders have been demonstrated to be caused by ligament weakness in many patients, often as a result of clenching the jaw or grinding the teeth, sleeping position, or a forward-positioned mandible (lower jaw).

Bruxism

There has been a great deal of emphasis on occlusal devices in the treatment of TMJ because of the tremendous forces that occur with bruxism. Bruxism is defined as the clenching or grinding of the teeth during nonfunctional movements of the mandible. When it occurs during sleep, it is termed nocturnal bruxism. Most individuals engage in nocturnal bruxism activity at some point in their lives. The etiology of nocturnal bruxism by most traditionally-minded practitioners is that it is a sleep disorder related to the patient’s waking emotional state that is centrally mediated and precipitated by emotional stress. It occurs in greater frequency during periods of emotional or physical stress, as well as the anticipation of stress.

Many people we have evaluated for bruxism have clicking and grinding in their TMJ.  While bruxism can cause TMJ, TMJ instability can cause bruxism. Most bruxism completely stops once the TMJ instability is resolved. It is imperative that it stop because nocturnal bruxism can generate incredible forces resulting in significant loads to the TMJ complex.

The problem of fluid buildup, a jaw joint trying to stabilize by swelling is a chronic and long-term problem of the degenerative joint disease

In a 2017 study, doctors publishing in The Journal of Headache and Pain (3) made these observations on cytokine levels in the masseter muscle (inflammation of the jaw muscle), and the response to tooth-clenching. The response the researchers were looking for was if tooth clenching caused inflammation and accompanying pain, fatigue, and psychological distress in patients with temporomandibular disorders (TMD) and myalgia (pain).

  • What they found was when the patients clenched their teeth, already elevated levels of inflammatory markers increased in the jaw muscle, BUT, there was no correlation between this increased inflammation and the jaw muscle pain and fatigue the patients were experiencing.

What does this mean?

According to the researchers, “This implies that subclinical muscle inflammation may be involved in TMD myalgia pathophysiology (The process of TMD), but that there is no direct cause-relation between inflammation and pain.”

What does this mean?

  • Subclinical means something not detected or understood. There is a chronic inflammatory response because something is not healing. In our experience that is the entire TMJ is in degenerative disease. This is a problem of the whole jaw joint disease and treatments must address the entire jaw joint, not a TMJ disc.

Instead of treating the inflammation, find the cause of the inflammation and treat that.

Researchers from the Netherlands writing in December 2023 (4) acknowledge this type of treatment thinking. They suggest: “Clinicians who treat TMD pain and masticatory muscle pain disorder (TM myalgia) usually try to discover the specific cause(s) of their patient’s pain and dysfunction in order to manage that condition. Pain frequently creates a confusing overlay of biomechanical and psychological signs and symptoms that obscure the original cause(s) of the problem. Until now, it was considered important as the first phase of treatment to focus on relieving the patient’s pain in patients suffering from TMD. It may be interesting to consider the role of inflammation on pain and therefore, to identify and determine the relationship of inflammatory markers with TM myalgia may provide a first step towards an effective treatment for these patients suffering from TMD.” In other words, is inflammation present and causing pain? Instead of treating the inflammation, find the cause of the inflammation and treat that.

Bruxism and chronic inflammation: There is a connection between inflammation and bruxism. It is just hard to prove.

Let’s return to our discussion of bruxism. Doctors are realizing that there is a connection between inflammation and bruxism. It is just hard to prove. In July 2023, doctors at Wroclaw Medical University in Poland, writing in the journal Brain Sciences (5) evaluated the relationship between inflammatory status and sleep bruxism. The researchers examined data from five studies and could only suggest that sleep bruxism could be associated with inflammation but there are no papers conclusively showing that the inflammatory status in bruxers is comparable to non-bruxers. What does this mean? There is a connection between inflammation and bruxism. It is just hard to prove.

Where there is inflammation, there is corticosteroids. Can steroid injections make TMJ pain worse?

Any medical treatment can make a condition worse. Many people have very successful outcomes with steroids. Much of the research demonstrated in this article shows short-term relief in many cases. However, the adverse effects of corticosteroids are well-known and cause concern among patients and the medical community.

Steroids / Anti-inflammatories – research questions effectiveness and worthiness in helping TMJ patients.

In a January 2019 paper in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation, (6) researchers from leading medical universities in Sweden looked at steroid injection, specifically Methylprednisolone as a means to help alleviate TMJ patient symptoms.

In this study, the researchers looked at inflammation as a symptom problem in the TMJ. Clearly, they hypothesized, an anti-inflammatory would help with the inflammatory pain the patient was suffering from. What they found was the exact opposite, the steroid injection made the pain worse.

  • In this study, 54 patients were randomly assigned to single-dose injection with methylprednisolone (27 patients) or saline (27 patients).
  • At the 4-week follow-up after injection, the researchers found little difference in pain relief in the steroid group and the saline group.
  • What they did find was that in addition to the Methylprednisolone providing no additional benefit for reducing pain, the steroid injection caused more harm. “Treatment-related adverse events were doubled in the methylprednisolone group.”

We will continue our discussion of steroid injections for TMJ below.

Part 3: Non-surgical conservative treatment methods for TMJ

Non-surgical conservative treatment methods for TMJ

A comparison of the outcomes of four minimally invasive treatment methods for anterior disc displacement of the temporomandibular joint. Why didn’t they help some people? Was it Inflammation?


Symptom suppression is successful, BUT the underlying problem is still there

The above heading is taken in part from the title of a paper from University medical researchers in Turkey published in the International Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. (7)

As the researchers point out, the purpose of this study was to compare the effectiveness of four non-surgical conservative treatment methods for temporomandibular displacement disorders. Patients were divided into four groups according to the treatment method:

  • Splint therapy, (various devices put into the mouth to stabilize the jaw joint).
  • Arthrocentesis, (aspiration of fluid in the jaw)
  • Medical therapy, (a medical treatment possibly involving arthroscopic procedures).
  • and low-level laser therapy (LLLT). LLLT stimulates the immune responses to heal joints by themselves.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was performed before treatment and at the 1-month follow-up. Patients were followed up after treatment for 6 months.

  • Mouth opening increased and pain scores decreased at 1, 3, and 6 months after treatment in all groups.
  • No statistically significant difference in the improvements in clinical symptoms was observed between the groups.

Note: All these treatments worked well, except in our opinion the very ominous problem of effusion.

Symptom suppression is successful, BUT the underlying problem is still there

Back to the research and why we consider this ominous.

A positive correlation was found between pain and TMJ effusion. A significant positive relationship was also found between internal derangement (structural problems) and effusion.

It was determined that the effusion demonstrated on MRI was associated with pain. Although the symptoms improved after treatment, joint effusion did not show any decrease in the 1-month follow-up MRI. In other words, the underlying problem was still there and the symptom relief could only be temporary.

There is currently no consensus on the best treatment for painful temporomandibular disc displacement with reduction.

In January 2024, an international team of doctors wrote in the International Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (8): “There is currently no consensus on the best treatment for painful temporomandibular disc displacement with reduction, and no network meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials (RCTs) comparing all types of treatment for this condition has been conducted.”

The team then set out to “compare and rank all treatments for temporomandibular disc displacement with reduction, including conservative treatments, occlusal splints, low-level laser therapy (LLLT), manual therapy, no treatment (control), arthrocentesis  alone, arthrocentesis plus intra-articular injection of platelet-rich plasma (arthrocentesis-PRP) or hyaluronic acid (arthrocentesis-HA), and arthrocentesis plus occlusal splint.”

Reviewing 20 previously published random control studies, the researchers collected 980 patient’s data.

A review of the results:

  • Arthrocentesis-PRP significantly reduced pain intensity compared to arthrocentesis alone.
  • Occlusal splint and manual therapy were superior to conservative treatment (all very low-quality evidence).
  • Arthrocentesis with intra-articular injection of PRP/HA ranked as the most effective treatment in terms of pain reduction
  • Low-Level Laser Therapy ranked as the best choice for increasing maximum mouth opening for patients with temporomandibular disc displacement with reduction.
  • However, it is important to note that the evidence for the superiority of these treatments is generally of very low quality.

Low-level Light Laser Therapy (LLLT) or Photobiomodulation therapy

An August 2023 paper in the Journal of Lasers in Medical Sciences (9) writes: “Photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT) is a conservative way to improve function and reduce symptoms in TMD patients” and sought to “update evidence about the effects of PBMT on pain intensity, TMJ movements, electromyography (EMG) activity, pressure pain threshold (PPT), and TMJ sound in patients with TMDs.”

Photobiomodulation therapy is a broad term to describe treatments using Low-level Light Laser Therapy, or “Red Light Therapy.”

In this review study, the data from forty previously published studies were assessed for outcomes:

  • Pain intensity: 27 studies showed a reduction in pain intensity in Photobiomodulation therapy groups compared to control groups.
  • Seven out of 15 studies showed a greater maximum mouth opening (MMO) in Photobiomodulation therapy groups than in placebo groups.
  • In addition, the figures for passive maximum mouth opening (PMMO) and active maximum mouth opening (AMMO) in all the studies reporting PMMO and AMMO were higher in Photobiomodulation therapy groups.
  • In eight out of ten studies, lateral movement was greater in Photobiomodulation therapy groups.
  • In three studies out of four, protrusive movement (PM) was reported to be greater in the Photobiomodulation therapy groups.
  • Reduced TMJ sounds in the Photobiomodulation therapy groups were reported in two out of five studies.

A September 2023 paper in the journal Medicine (10) reviewed the data of 22 previously published studies on the effects of acupuncture in adults with TMD. In all, reviews of 471 cases were used. The researchers found “acupuncture significantly improved outcomes versus active controls… acupuncture significantly improved the effect rate and pain intensity, however, the quality of evidence was determined to range from low to very low.

Duloxetine

A November 2023 paper in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation (11) reported on a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial (RCT) of duloxetine in addition to self-management strategies to investigate its efficacy in reducing pain intensity in painful TMD patients.

Duloxetine is an anti-depressant that is thought to help relax the TMJ muscles and thereby relieve pain.

What the researchers found was of eighty participants who were randomized to duloxetine 60 mg or placebo for 12 weeks, pain intensity decreased in both groups but did not differ between groups. “This study failed to provide evidence of a beneficial effect of adding duloxetine to self-management strategies for the treatment of painful TMD. . . ”

Craniocervical physical therapy in patients with myofascial temporomandibular pain disorders. Focus on muscle spasms

In a 2017 study (66) from researchers at the University of Comenius’ Faculty of Medicine in Slovakia, doctors suggested that physical therapy could improve craniocervical dysfunction and myofascial pain symptoms in the head and neck. Here are the highlights of this study:

  • The group of patients diagnosed with myofascial dysfunctional pain syndrome contained 98 patients out of which 79 patients (81 %) were females and 19 patients (19 %) were males.
  • The majority of the patients were aged between 26 and 35 years; the total age range was 14-77 years with an average of 38 years.
  • Observed patients were subdivided into three groups.
    • Standard therapeutic methods aimed at the temporomandibular joint were provided to the patients of the first group.
    • The second group of patients received therapy aimed at cervical muscles only.
    • Complex rehabilitation was applied in the third group of patients.

According to the study’s results, all three groups of patients saw an improvement in pain perception, but the overall subjective remission of painful sensations in the third group took place in as many as 88 % of patients. In this group, there was a significant decrease in the tenderness of trigger points in the trapezius and sternocleidomastoid muscles. This was achieved by a combination of simple relaxing and stretching exercises of cervical muscles with a standard method used in the therapy of masticatory muscles that are significantly more efficient.

In this study, the focus was on muscle spasms and the pain they cause. If you can relax the muscles of the TMJ and cervical neck region, you will have less pain. For some people, this will be very effective. For others, it will not. Typically, the people who will not find success will be people who have ligament damage or weakness and tendon attachment weakness or damage. For muscle techniques to work, there needs to be a resistance that allows the muscles to strengthen. If ligaments and tendons are damaged, there is lesser resistance and the treatment will not succeed as wished. We address this problem below.

Physical therapy for TMJ disorders

In November 2022 in the medical journal Biomedicines (67) doctors tested the effectiveness of physical therapy as a treatment of temporomandibular joint dysfunction and the impact the treatment would have on pain coming from the neck. In this paper, 64 patients were divided into two groups. Thirty-three patients underwent conservative drug treatment and physiotherapy treatment, and 31 patients in the control group underwent only conservative drug treatment. The participants were examined at baseline and re-examined after 3 months. In this study, there was a higher incidence of female patients.

The doctors found that “After 3 months of treatment of the TMJs and cervical spine, pain decreased in both groups. Muscle testing at the cervical spine and temporomandibular level showed a decrease in pain and muscle spasms. The average percentage values of the Neck Disability Index (NDI) and the Jaw Functional Limitation Scale 8 decreased significantly in both groups . . .” The researchers noted however that pain reduction and increase in function were specifically seen in the patients receiving conservative drug treatment and physiotherapy treatment. The researchers concluded: “Physiotherapy treatments could maintain the functional state at the temporomandibular and cervical levels, thus contributing to increasing the quality of daily life.”

But how does physical therapy help? The researchers citing previous studies noted that TMJ disorders can impact the boy well beyond the jaw. TMJ disorders may negatively affect not only mastication, swallowing, and breathing but also distort the muscle movements of the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spines. “Balancing TMJs through exercise corrects the dysfunctions and changes the position of the center of gravity, which has effects on the mobility of the spine and the stability of the limbs. . . A direct relationship exists between the movements of TMJ and the cervical spine and posture.

Manual therapy to the neck for TMJ

A 2023 paper (72) in the Journal of oral and facial pain and headache examined the effect of cervical spine manual therapy for reducing pain and improving mouth opening and jaw function in people with TMDs. In reviewing outcome data of 213 patients, 90% were women, the researchers found manual therapy applied to the cervical joint decreased orofacial pain and improved PPT (pressure pain threshold) and jaw function.

A March 2023 paper (73) in the journal BMC sports science, medicine and rehabilitation suggests that patients with myofascial TMD and headaches may get significant treatment duration-related reductions in headache severity and TMJ pain from manual therapy and stretching exercise therapy in the cervical spine.

An April 2024 study (74) in the Journal of Indian Prosthodontic Society evaluated different kinds of treatment modalities for temporomandibular joint pain and its impact to chronic cervical pain after 12 months treatment. Forty-eight patients with chronic cervical and TMJ pain were divided into groups of 12, which included a control group and treatment groups of soft splints, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), and low-level laser (LLL). Patient’s cervical and TMJ pain was recorded using visual analog scale (VAS 0 – 10 patient reported pain) scores at baseline, 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months. TENS and low-level laser (LLL) were found to be equally effective in reducing pain in the jaw joint region, followed by soft splints. The treatments to the TMJ had no impact on cervical neck pain. The question asked was, does treating TMJ help neck pain. The researchers here found the answer as no.

Acupuncture for TMJ

A May 2024 study in the journal Clinical rehabilitation (69) examined the effects on temporomandibular disorder in the treatment of tension-type headache with acupuncture and therapeutic exercises. Ninety-six patients with frequent episodic or chronic tension-type headache were divided into one of four treatment groups. Six weeks of acupuncture or therapeutic exercise either as monotherapies or in combination, or usual care. Follow-up at 3 and 6 months.

Results: Temporomandibular dysfunction score improved in all intervention groups at 3-month follow-up the usual care; acupuncture; therapeutic exercise; combination of treatment groups. After 6 months, only acupuncture had long-lasting positive effects on the symptoms of temporomandibular dysfunction. Significant dental problems inhibited the effectiveness of acupuncture for tension-type headache. 

The evidence and comparisons of TMJ injection treatments

Injections into the masticatory muscles, injections into the temporomandibular joints

A December 2023 paper in the medical journal Drugs (12) reported on medical use and treatments in masticatory muscles, and TMJ patients. They write that while there are more than 50% of the patients with TMD report regular drug usage, there is still no consensus, nor is there any evidence-based support for clinicians when choosing between different drugs.

  • When it comes to discomfort in the masticatory muscles, evidence arises for Botulinum toxin injections, granisetron (as an anti-inflammatory), and Platelet-Rich Plasma injections as well as muscle relaxants. For temporomandibular joint pain, evidence points toward pharmacological treatment approaches including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and glucocorticosteroids (for inflammatory conditions) as well as hyaluronic acid and dextrose (prolotherapy).

The researchers conclude: “The evidence clearly indicates that the pharmacological treatment approaches differ between TMD-masticatory muscles and TMD-temporomandibular joint pain. Therefore, it is of great importance to first try to uncover each patient’s individual and multifactorial etiology and then employ a multifaceted treatment strategy, including pharmacological treatment approaches.”

A February 2022 review in the journal Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Clinics of North America (13) offers us this summary of the myriads of treatments available to TMJ patients.

“Treatments include noninvasive pharmacologic therapies, minimally invasive muscular and articular injections, and surgery. Conservative therapies include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants.

Minimally invasive injections include botulinum toxin, corticosteroids, platelet-rich plasma, hyaluronic acid, and Prolotherapy with hypertonic glucose. With many pharmacologic treatment options and modalities available to the oral and maxillofacial surgeon, mild to moderate temporomandibular joint disorder can be managed safely and effectively to improve symptoms of pain and function of the temporomandibular joint.”

“Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (with proton pump inhibitors) and muscle relaxants are first-line therapies shown to improve symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorder. Oral benzodiazepines, tricyclic antidepressants, and anticonvulsants are alternative therapies that may be considered in resistant or refractory temporomandibular joint disorder, in consultation with the patient’s physician. Botox injections have been shown to be a safe and effective treatment for myofascial temporomandibular joint disorder as intramuscular injections. Intra-articular injections have shown marked improvement in symptoms. Evidence suggests they share similar effectiveness. Prolotherapy with hypertonic glucose is effective for treating hypermobility and subluxation of the temporomandibular joint.”

Steroids, Hyaluronic acid injections, and Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy

Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy is a treatment that utilizes your blood platelets as a healing injectable. This treatment will be explained later in this article. A June 2019 study published in The Journal of Craniofacial Surgery (14) from a team of hospital and university researchers in Turkey evaluated the use of intra-articular corticosteroids, hyaluronic acid, and platelet-rich plasma in patients with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain and clinically diagnosed with TMJ-osteoarthritis. They found that intra-articular PRP injections decreased TMJ palpation pain more effectively compared with the hyaluronic acid and corticosteroid groups.

More recently in November 2022 in the medical journal Life (15), researchers compared the long-term effect on pain of intra-articular TMJ injections of betamethasone (corticosteroid), sodium hyaluronate, and platelet-rich plasma. The study group was made up of 114 patients, who were randomly distributed into three groups at least three years prior to completion of the study and who achieved a total remission of pain after treatment.

  • The researchers found the average number of months without pain was, according to each group, as follows:
    • Platelet-rich plasma: 33 months;
    • Sodium hyaluronate: 28 months
    • Betamethasone 19 months.
  • The researchers concluded: “Both platelet-rich plasma and sodium hyaluronate lead to significant pain-free time after treatment; when we compare betamethasone with the two other substances, it proved to be very ineffective.”

A December 2023 systematic review in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation (68) looked at the data of 18 previously published articles and found no statistically significant differences between injections of hyaluronic acid and corticosteroids, whereas platelet derivates (PRP therapy) seem to have good results in pain relief. Overall, however, the researchers did find “intriguing effects of intra-articular  injections of hyaluronic acid in terms of reduction of pain intensity and improvement of functioning in patients affected by TMD.”

Moving away from hyaluronic acid to PRP

The effectiveness of PRP has led to more research on PRP for various musculoskeletal disorders. A July 2023 paper in the Journal of Clinical Medicine (16) in fact states, that medical research has swung away from hyaluronic acid research. The researchers write: “In the years 2017–2023, hyaluronic acid was the most common topic of scientific publications among injectables administered into temporomandibular joint cavities (26 randomized controlled trials and 30 other clinical studies). In the same period, there was a significant upward trend in the number of published primary studies focused on centrifuged blood preparations used in the treatment of TMDs. As of 2021, blood products (such as PRP) administered into TMJ cavities have become a more popular topic for professional medical articles than hyaluronic acid.”

A November 2023 study in the Journal of Cranio-Maxillo-Facial Surgery (17) compared the efficacy of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections for the treatment of temporomandibular joint osteoarthritis with hyaluronic acid therapy. This randomized controlled trial included 70 patients with temporomandibular joint osteoarthritis, randomly divided into either a PRP or hyaluronic acid therapy group. The pain intensity, maximum mouth opening (MMO), TMJ sound score, and proportion of crepitus were recorded and compared at baseline, one, three, and six months.

Both groups showed statistically significant improvements in pain intensity, maximum mouth opening, TMJ sound, and scale scores during the 6-month follow-up period. The improvements in pain intensity during mouth opening at 1 month, maximum mouth opening at one, three, and six months, TMJ sound score at one and three months, and GAD-7 (General Anxiety Disorder survey) score at 6 months in the PRP group were greater than in the hyaluronic acid group.

The researchers concluded: “Compared with the hyaluronic acid therapy group, imaging improvement in the PRP group was also higher. Within the limitations of the study, it seems that the application of PRP therapy in TMJ-osteoarthritis should be considered whenever possible.”

Steroids, Hyaluronic acid injections, and Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy

An April 2023 paper (18) from the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Department, Faculty of Dentistry, at Mansoura University compared the outcomes in patients of different intra-articular injections using a mixture of hyaluronic acid (HA) and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) versus hyaluronic acid and corticosteroid in the management of TMJ internal derangement with reduction (dislocation.) The research was published in the Journal of maxillofacial and oral surgery.

In this study: Sixty patients were randomly divided into two equal groups.

  • Group I was injected with hyaluronic acid and PRP.
  • Group II was injected with hyaluronic acid and corticosteroid.

Pain intensity according to the visual analog scale (0 no pain to 10 unbearable pain), maximum inter-incisal opening (MIO – Mouth opening ability), lateral movement, and joint sound were measured pre-operatively and at 1 week, 1 month, and 6 months post-operatively.

Mouth opening ability and lateral movements were improved in both groups, with a reduction in the number of patients suffering from clicking sounds during the follow-up periods with both groups showing significant results.

  • Regarding pain, the group injected with hyaluronic acid (HA) and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) achieved the best results after six months, while patients treated with hyaluronic acid and corticosteroids obtained the best results at the end of the 1st week.

Hyaluronic acid injections and steroid injection

In September 2018, in the Hungarian Medical Weekly, (19) researchers at the world-renowned Semmelweis University’s Faculty of Dentistry published their findings comparing hyaluronic acid injections and steroid injections.

They found:

  • Comparing the two treatments, three hyaluronic acid injections were significantly more effective than cortisone in relieving patients’ symptoms.

We have looked at Hyaluronic injections at length. The injections are a lubricating gel designed to help with pain-free movement in the joint. We have examined research on these injections and wrote of our findings. In our article on knee injections, Are Hyaluronic injections low-value health care? -We wrote “It should be noted that we see many patients who have tried hyaluronic acid injections. These injections have worked for these people in the short term. These patients are now in our office because the short-term has not transpired to the long-term and now  a different treatment approach needs to be undertaken.”

Beyond our opinion, there is good debate in the medical community There is debate in the medical community over the effectiveness of hyaluronic acid injections for pain relief and functional improvement in patients with temporomandibular disorders. This is discussed in an August 2023 paper (20) published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Here doctors in Romania conducted an umbrella review of previously published papers. In their examination of the data they suggest: “no statistically significant differences between hyaluronic acid injections and corticosteroids, whereas platelet (PRP) derivates seem to have good results in pain relief. . . Furthermore, there is no agreement on the effectiveness of a combination of arthrocentesis or arthroscopy with hyaluronic acid injections.” The researchers warned that “Although the literature showed these positive results after hyaluronic acid injections, the overlapping of primary studies in the systematic reviews included might have affected our results, such as the very low quality of the papers.” In other words, the positive effects of hyaluronic acid injections were not definitively shown.

Hyaluronic injections vs. glucosamine and oral NSAID

An  October 2021 study in the Journal of Clinical Oral Investigations (21) compared the effects of 4 biweekly hyaluronan (Hyaluronic injections) injections with glucosamine and diclofenac oral administration on TMJ osteoarthritis patients. These are the paper’s learning points:

  • This study included TMJ osteoarthritis patients who had four biweekly hyaluronan injections or oral glucosamine hydrochloride for 3 months and diclofenac sodium for 2 weeks (group and had complete data at the first visit, three months, six months, and 12 months.

Results:

  • Hyaluronan injections alleviated signs and symptoms of TMJ osteoarthritis rapidly and presented superior clinical effects over oral glucosamine with diclofenac. However, both treatments did not limit the bone destruction of TMJs significantly.” In other words, the degenerative joint, the TMJ, disease continued. Below we will cite one possible reason as already discussed, for TMJ ligament laxity and TMJ instability.

BOTOX® – Botulinum toxin injections for TMJ

Most people recognize the more familiar BOTOX® brand name for Botulinum toxin injection. Most are also familiar that these injections give a more youthful facial appearance by relaxing muscles and thereby reducing wrinkles. This concept of relaxing muscles is the basis behind botulinum toxin injection as an alternative treatment for TMJ and related jaw pain. The treatment is injected into the muscles of the face and jaw where spasm causes pain and discomfort.

Myofascial pain syndrome is a common painful muscle disorder caused by taut bands or trigger points in the muscles including the muscles of the TMJ. Myofascial trigger points are tender areas in muscles causing local and referred muscle pain. Trigger points may cause tight muscles and tight muscles may cause trigger points. That is not a play on words, that is actually what can happen, you have spasms because of instability in the jaw. Those continuous spasms can cause points of pain sensitivity within the muscle from “over-spasming.”

A November 2021 paper in The Journal of Craniofacial Surgery (22)  analyzed the clinical outcome of botulinum toxin type A intramuscular injections into the head and neck, particularly the masticatory muscles of patients with temporomandibular disorder (TMD).

  • A total of 68 patients had received botulinum toxin type A intramuscular injections for TMD symptoms.
  • Overall, 87% of them reported favorable outcomes. 8 (13%) reported BOTOX® injections as not beneficial, 15 (24%) as beneficial, and 40 patients (63%) as highly beneficial.
  • Most patients had already received conventional treatment with an occlusal splint (93%) combined with pain medication (60%) in the primary care units before BOTOX® treatments.
  • There were 59 (83%) female patients, and they responded better to BOTOX® therapy than the male patients: 91% versus 57%.

A December 2020 paper in the Journal of Oral Science (23) listed improvements however as temporary. In this paper, twenty-two patients who received a diagnosis of chronic masseter and temporalis myofascial pain were evaluated by using a visual analog pain scale (no pain is a zero score – unbearable pain is a score of 10), among other disability and pain scoring surveys. The outcome was that while at two months after botulinum toxin treatment the patients showed significant improvement in quality of life, those improvements did not hold at seven months. However, the researchers concluded that botulinum toxin type A injections resulted in safe, effective short-term pain relief for patients with chronic facial pain affecting the masseter and temporalis muscles.

A June 2020 paper published in The British Journal of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery (24) also found good but short-term benefits. The researchers wrote: “Despite showing benefits, consensus on the therapeutic benefit of botulinum toxin in the management of myofascial temporomandibular joint disorders is lacking. Further randomized controlled trials with larger sample sizes, minimal bias, and longer follow-up periods are now needed.”

In September 2023 researchers writing in the Journal of Stomatology, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (25) provided an updated assessment of the effectiveness of myogenic (muscle-related)  botulinum toxin injection and provided a before and after comparison. In this paper of 45 patients who received botulinum toxin injections in the temporalis and masseter muscles, the researchers found significant improvement in pain, function, and quality of life.

An October 2023 study in the medical journal Toxins (26) aimed to evaluate the efficacy of botulinum toxin type A in patients with temporomandibular disorders (TMDs) associated with masticatory muscle pain and headaches.

  • Twenty-one patients with myogenous (masticatory muscle) TMD were randomly assigned to two groups.
    • The experimental and control groups received injections of either botulinum toxin type A or saline into the sites showing tenderness after palpation of a total of 16 muscle areas, including each masseter, a temporalis, splenius capitis, sternocleidomastoid, and trapezius muscle.
    • During each visit, the clinical effects, based on the intensity of orofacial pain, headache, number of tender points, maximum mouth opening, and headache frequency, were evaluated at pre-injection and 4, 8, and 12 weeks after the injection, in both groups.
    • In the botulinum toxin type A group, the positive reductions in orofacial pain, number of tender points, headache, and headache frequency showed significant differences over time. There were no positive findings of benefit for maximum mouth-opening

In updated research from May 2024 (70) in the Journal of oral rehabilitation, researchers from McGill University analyzed data from 15 studies and 504 participants in finding  botulinum toxin type A was significantly more effective than placebo in reducing pain intensity, as measured on a 0-10 scale, at 1 month and 6 months. A higher dosage of botulinum toxin type A (60-100 U bilaterally) was associated with a greater reduction in pain at 6 months. 

Arthrocentesis and Hyaluronic acid with Botox

In November 2023 doctors published their findings of a 3-year prospective study in the Journal of Cranio-Maxillo-Facial Surgery. (27) In this study, the effectiveness of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) arthrocentesis with viscosupplementation was evaluated in patients with Dimitroulis (severity) classification categories 2-4. TMJ arthrocentesis was performed with Incobotulinum toxin A  administered 10-15 days prior in patients with concomitant masticatory myalgia.

  • A total of 108 patients were enrolled; 86 (80%) were women and 22 (20%) were men.
  • The overall successful outcome of TMJ arthrocentesis with viscosupplementation was 76%.
  • The authors observed increased arthrocentesis effectiveness and success rate with viscosupplementation in Dimitroulis category 2 (88.6%) compared to 3-4 (71.4%).
    • An association was found between arthrocentesis with viscosupplementation failure and painful myalgia.
    • Thirteen patients (12%) underwent a second TMJ intervention after finalizing the present trial.

The researchers concluded: “With a low complication rate, TMJ arthrocentesis with viscosupplementation led to an overall benefit for all the included patients. This study reinforces the important role of minimally invasive TMJ arthrocentesis as a first treatment option, with better results in the early stages compared to more severe stages.”

Botulinum toxin and jaw bone degeneration?

A February 2020 (28) study in the journal Scientific Reports addressed the controversy surrounding masticatory muscle atrophy induced by botulinum toxin injection. The controversy exists because it cannot be shown (definitely) if botulinum toxin injection causes enough muscle atrophy to create more instability in the jaw and an eventual bone-on-bone grinding of the jaw bone and the mandible. In this study, a group of 39 women (average age about 27) and 38 post-menopausal women (average age about 55) had an application of a stabilization splint, and/or two times botulinum toxin injection in the bilateral temporalis and masseter muscles within a six-month treatment period.  It was observed in the patients a decreased masticatory muscle thickness (atrophy of the muscle), especially in post-menopausal females. The botulinum toxin injection may induce muscle atrophy that damages the jaw bone by way of joint instability.

The research on Prolotherapy for Temporomandibular Joint Pain and Dysfunction

Prolotherapy is the injection of simple sugar, dextrose. The idea is that dextrose will cause a strengthening and rebuilding of the soft tissue holding the jaw in place. Strengthened soft tissue, i.e., ligaments, will stabilize the jaw joint, pull things back into place, and reduce degenerative disc and destructive joint forces in the jaw. In this next section, we will discuss the research and clinical outcomes of this injection treatment and compare these treatments to other injections.

While research is very promising, prolotherapy does not work for everyone nor is it 100% in positive outcomes.

“Dextrose Prolotherapy is one of the most promising approaches in the management of TMD”

A March 2021 study in the Journal of Maxillofacial and Oral Surgery (29) writes:

“Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders can be treated by both conservative and surgical approaches. Conservative interventions with predictable benefits can be considered first-line treatments for such disorders. Dextrose Prolotherapy is one of the most promising approaches in the management of TMDs, especially in refractory (difficult) cases where other conservative management has failed.

(The researchers) conducted a study on 25 patients suffering from various TMJ disorders who were treated with Prolotherapy. . . The standard program is to repeat the injections three times, at 2-week intervals, which totals four injection appointments over 6 weeks with a 3-month follow-up.

Results: There was an appreciable reduction in tenderness in TMJ and masticatory muscles with significant improvement in mouth opening. The effect of the treatment in improving clicking and deviation of TMJ was found to be statistically significant. There were no permanent complications.

Conclusion: (This) study concluded that Prolotherapy is an effective therapeutic modality that reduces TMJ pain, and improves joint stability and range of motion in a majority of patients. It can be a first-line treatment option as it is safe, economical, and an easy procedure associated with minimal morbidity.”

“Intra-articular dextrose injection (Prolotherapy) resulted in substantial improvement in jaw pain, function, and maximal interincisal opening (MIO) compared with masked control injection at 3 months; clinical improvements endured to 12 months. Satisfaction was high.”

In March 2019, doctors tested this idea. Publishing in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings (30)  these doctors from the University of British Columbia, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the School of Medicine, the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong announced these findings in their study to assess the LONG-TERM effectiveness of dextrose Prolotherapy injections in study participants with temporomandibular dysfunction.

Here is the research review:

  • Forty-two participants (12 bilateral) meeting temporomandibular dysfunction criteria were randomized to
    • 3 monthly Prolotherapy injections (20% dextrose/0.2% lidocaine or 0.2% lidocaine) followed by as-needed dextrose/0.2% lidocaine injections through 1 year.
    • Primary and secondary outcome measures included a 0 to 10 Numerical Rating Scale score for facial pain and jaw dysfunction; maximal interincisal opening (MIO) measured in millimeters, percentage of joints with 50% or more change (improvement) in pain and function, and satisfaction.

RESULTS:

  • Randomization produced a control group with:
    • more female participants
    • longer pain duration
    • and less maximal interincisal opening.
  • Upon 3-month analysis, dextrose Prolotherapy group participants reported:
    • decreased jaw pain
    • less jaw dysfunction
    • and improved maximal interincisal opening.
  • CONCLUSION: “Intra-articular dextrose injection (Prolotherapy) resulted in substantial improvement in jaw pain, function, and maximal interincisal opening (MIO) compared with masked control injection at 3 months; clinical improvements endured to 12 months. Satisfaction was high.”

Study – Dextrose injections (Prolotherapy): Clinically important and statistically significant improvement in pain and maximal jaw opening.

An August 2020 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (31) whose authors included noted Prolotherapy researchers, friends, and colleagues Kenneth Dean Reeves, MD and David Rabago, MD noted:

  • Several intraarticular injections, including dextrose and lidocaine, are reported to reduce pain and dysfunction in temporomandibular dysfunction and increase maximal jaw opening; (the study’s) goal was to determine whether dextrose/lidocaine outperforms sterile water/lidocaine for temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD).

Patient profile:

  • Patients with chronic (more than three months) moderate-to-severe (more than 6 on a scale of 10) jaw or facial pain meeting research-specific TMD criteria.
  • Randomization of 29 participants (25 female, average age 47, youngest about 39, oldest about 56). Of the 29 patients, 14 had both sides of their jaw treated.

Patient treatments:

  • Blinded intraarticular dextrose prolotherapy  (20% dextrose/0.2% lidocaine) versus intraarticular lidocaine (0.2% lidocaine in sterile water) at 0, 1, and 2 months.
  • Participants were then unblinded and offered Prolotherapy by request for 9 additional months.

Outcomes:

  • The patients were then asked to grade their pain and dysfunction on a Numerical Rating Scale (0-10 points) score. The outcome of “successful” treatment was measured by patients achieving more than 50% improvement in pain and dysfunction (0, 3, and 12 months).
  • Secondary: Maximal interincisal opening (mouth opening).

Comparison between Prolotherapy vs. lidocaine

  • Three-month pain and dysfunction improvements were similar between Prolotherapy and lidocaine, but more Prolotherapy-treated joints improved by more than 50% in pain.
  • Mouth opening improved in both groups.
  • The twelve-month analysis revealed that joints in the original dextrose Prolotherapy injection group improved more in jaw pain and jaw dysfunction.
  • There were no adverse events; satisfaction was high.
  • Conclusions: Intraarticular DPT resulted in clinically important and statistically significant improvement in pain and dysfunction at 12 months compared to lidocaine injection.

Prolotherapy has a promising role in the improvement of oral health-related quality of life of patients with TMD, and its beneficial effects persist at least two years after treatment.

An August 2020 study in The British Journal of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery (32) wrote: “In the present study we have assessed the influence of Prolotherapy in patients with TMD by the subjective measurement of Quality of Life using the Oral Health Impact Profile-14 (OHIP-14). Twenty-five patients diagnosed with TMD (mean (range) age 38 (18 – 70) years) were included. They had all undergone dextrose Prolotherapy to the TMJ at regular time intervals (four times at intervals of two weeks).”

  • They were asked to answer the OHIP-14 questionnaire before and two years after Prolotherapy.
  • Seven domains (groups of questions) of oral health-related quality of life were rated on a 5-point scale from 0 (never) to 4 (very often).
  • Prolotherapy was effective over time, as all the domains’ mean scores decreased considerably after treatment.
  • The total mean score before Prolotherapy was 21.20, which was extensively reduced to 13.08 after Prolotherapy. There was a statistically significant improvement in all domains, including:
    • functional limitation,
    • physical pain,
    • psychological discomfort,
    • physical disability,
    • psychological disability,
    • social disability, and
    • handicap.
  • We concluded that Prolotherapy has a promising role in the improvement of quality of life in patients with TMD, and its beneficial effects persist at least two years after treatment.

“I would consider referring a patient with chronic temporomandibular pain for dextrose injection if a clinician with experience in this procedure were available.”

In May 2019 editor Allan S. Brett, MD  reviewed this study for his colleagues. Here is what he wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine:

Injection of hypertonic dextrose was quite effective in a randomized trial.

“In this double-blind randomized trial from British Columbia, researchers identified 42 patients with chronic temporomandibular joint pain and dysfunction. Patients received either 20% dextrose plus lidocaine (Prolotherapy) or lidocaine alone, injected into the temporomandibular joint three times at monthly intervals. At baseline, the mean pain score was 8, and the mean jaw dysfunction score was 7 (on 0–10-point scales). At 3 months, a decrease in mean pain score was significantly greater in the dextrose group (Prolotherapy) than in the control group (−4.3 vs. −1.8 points). A decrease in jaw dysfunction also was significantly greater in the dextrose group (−3.5 vs. −1.0 points).

“These results are quite impressive; the study methods are described in great detail, which increases my confidence in the findings. Although the results should be corroborated in another randomized trial, I would consider referring a patient with chronic temporomandibular pain for dextrose injection, if a clinician with experience in this procedure were available.

Indian doctors writing in the Journal of Maxillofacial and Oral Surgery (33) found positive results utilizing Prolotherapy injections for TMJ in recent research (June 2017). Here is what they said:

Hypermobility disorders of the Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) can be treated by both conservative and surgical approaches. Conservative approaches should be considered as first-line treatment for such disorders.

  • Prolotherapy with 25 % dextrose being injected into the posterior pericapsular tissues is one such treatment modality with favorable outcomes.

In their study, the researchers examined 23 patients suffering from either chronic recurrent dislocation or subluxation of the TMJ who were treated with the single-injection technique prolotherapy with 25 % dextrose into the pericapsular tissues along with auriculotemporal nerve block.

  • The overall success rate in the study was 91.3 % (21/23) with a minimum follow-up period of 13.9 months.
  • The number of successfully treated patients requiring one injection was 7 (30.4 %), two injections were 8 (34.7 %), and requiring three injections was 6 (26.1 %). There were no permanent complications.

An April 2023 paper in the journal Cranio (34) from Alexandria University in Egypt reviewed data from eight previously published studies testing the effectiveness of prolotherapy on TMJ, In total 286 cases were reviewed  72% were females, and 28% were males. “The extracted data showed positive effects of dextrose on joint pain and maximum mouth opening with high patient satisfaction.” The researchers concluded that prolotherapy “can be effective in relieving TMD symptoms as it reduces pain, improves joint dysfunction, and increases maximum mouth opening up to 12 months.”

Prolotherapy reports on Hypermobility, disc displacement/dislocation

In Prolotherapy research, doctors say that they see appreciable improvements in the number of episodes of dislocation and clicking after Prolotherapy treatment.

  • Doctors writing in the British Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery found that Prolotherapy injections were curative in preventing recurrent TMJ dislocations. In fact, nearly 2 of 3 of these patients achieved this result with a single treatment. (35)

In supportive research doctors at the University of Karadeniz Technical University (36) say that they see appreciable improvements in the number of episodes of dislocation and clicking after Prolotherapy treatment.

  • The overall success rate, defined as the absence of any further dislocation or subluxation for more than 6 months, was 91%.
  • Of the 41 rehabilitated patients,
    • 26 (63%) required a single injection,
    • 11 (27%) had 2 treatments,
    • and 4 (10%) needed a third injection.
  • All patients tolerated the injections well. The modified dextrose Prolotherapy is simple, safe, and cost-effective for the treatment of recurrent dislocation of the TMJ.

In the July 2018 edition of the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation, (37) Military doctors in India compared Prolotherapy to Placebo injections. They found: “Within the limitations of the study, dextrose Prolotherapy may cause significant reduction in mouth opening and pain associated with TMJ hypermobility. Conclusions concerning the reduction of episodes of subluxation/dislocation cannot be drawn. ” In their study, they could not give good evidence that TMJ subluxations or dislocations were reduced.

A February 2022 study (38) evaluated the effects of prolotherapy on condyles (wear and tear on the bone) in temporomandibular joint hypermobility. In this study, the researchers acknowledged that prolotherapy has gained popularity in recent years and has been reported to have positive short-term and long-term. Their study aimed to evaluate the changes in the trabecular (bone) structure of mandibular condyles in patients who underwent prolotherapy due to TMJ hypermobility.

  • Forty-five patients who received dextrose prolotherapy at a concentration of 20% and fifteen control patients were included in the study.

Result:

  • Dextrose prolotherapy without the effect of the number of injections caused a decrease in Fractal Dimensions (A computer-based scoring system) values in the mandibular condyles over time. Prolotherapy lessened the effects of degenerative wear and tear on the TMJ.

Intra-articular injection of 25% dextrose is effective in the treatment of pain and dysfunction of TMJ disc displacement with reduction as shown by significant improvement in pain and mouth opening and patient satisfaction.

A March 2022 study published in the Journal of Cranio-Maxillo-Facial Surgery (39) comes to us from the Faculty of Dentistry, Mansoura University, Egypt. In this research, doctors assessed the effectiveness of dextrose prolotherapy on the clinical signs and symptoms of patients having TMJ disc displacement with reduction.

  • “This prospective, randomized, double-blind clinical study included thirty patients suffering from bilateral disc displacement with reduction. The patients were randomly divided into two equal groups. Group I = 25% dextrose solution and normal saline in Group II.
  • Pain intensity, maximal interincisal opening (mouth opening), and joint sounds were evaluated:
    • preoperatively,
    • one week after each injection, and three months and six months after the last injection.
  • Patients in group I (Prolotherapy group) showed significant improvement in pain and maximal interincisal opening, and higher satisfaction with treatment than patients in group II (Saline group). Compared to saline injection, dextrose injection resulted in an improvement in joint sounds but without significant differences within and between groups.
  • Intra-articular injection of 25% dextrose is effective in the treatment of pain and dysfunction of TMJ disc displacement with reduction as shown by significant improvement in pain and mouth opening and patient satisfaction. The technique is simple, easy to do, safe, and should be adopted whenever appropriate.”

March 2021 paper in the journal Head and Face Medicine (40) examined and treated forty adolescents and young adults, aged 16 to 30 years old, with a distinct combination of symptoms of TMJ “closed lock”. Patients received anesthetic blockages of the auriculotemporal nerve, then performed mandibular condylar movement exercise for 10 min, and subsequently received hypertonic dextrose prolotherapy in the retro-discal area of TMJ. Clinical assessments at baseline and at follow-up (2 weeks, 2 months, 6 months, and 5 years) included intensity and frequency of TMJ pain, mandibular range of motion, TMJ sounds, and impairment of chewing.

Results: Cone beam CT images of the TMJs revealed joint space changes in all patients and degenerative bone changes in 20% (8/40) of the patients. The patients were diagnosed as having disc displacement without reduction with limited opening. Successful reduction of the displaced disc had been achieved in the treatment. Pain at rest and pain on mastication had substantially decreased in all patients and mandibular function and mouth opening had significantly improved since 2 weeks’ follow-up. The overall success rate was kept at a high level of 97.5% (39/40) at 6 months and 5 years’ follow-up.

More research published in The British Journal of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery. (41)

Dr. Refai of Cairo University reported in the British Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery:

  • Sixty-one patients with symptomatic hypermobility of the TMJ were each given four sessions of intra-articular and pericapsular Prolotherapy injections six weeks apart.
  • Each injection comprised 10% dextrose/mepivacaine solution 3ml.
  • Clinical outcomes include:
    • the severity of pain on movement according to the numerical rating scale (NRS),
    • maximal interincisal opening,
    • clicking,
    • and frequency of locking was measured before treatment (T1), during treatment (T2) (just before the third session of injections), at the short-term follow-up (T3) (three months after treatment), and at the long-term follow-up (T4) (1-4 years after treatment).
  • Condylar translation (movement of the TMJ joint) and osseous (bony) changes of each joint were evaluated at T1 and T4 using tomography.
    • There was a significant reduction in all variables by T2
    • The pain scores and clicking had decreased significantly by short-term follow-up (T3).
    • Linear tomograms of each joint at T1 and T4 showed no alteration in the morphology of the bony components of the joint, and at the long-term follow-up (T4), tomographic open views of all joints showed condylar hyper-translation.

A June 2023 study in the European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences (42) evaluated the effect of dextrose prolotherapy in treating internal derangement of the temporomandibular joint. A total of 20 patients with temporomandibular joint internal derangement were enrolled in the study. “The posterior and anterior disc attachment, as well as the most tender part of the masseter muscle, were injected with 12.5% dextrose. Pain, maximum mouth opening, clicking, and deviation were assessed immediately before treatment, as well as at two, four, and twelve- weeks post-treatment.

Results: There was a significant improvement in the four clinical variables at the three time intervals.

  • Pain at two weeks was reduced by 60% and by 200% at 4 weeks.
  • The maximum mouth opening was increased by 6.4 mm at 2 weeks and 7.85 mm at 4 weeks.
  • The percentage of patients with clicking decreased from 70%, preoperatively- to 50% at 2 weeks, 15% at 4 weeks, and 5% at 12 weeks.
  • The ratio of patients with deviation was decreased from 80% preoperatively to 35% at 2 weeks, 15% at 4 weeks, and 5% at 12 weeks.

An April 2024 paper in the Journal of ultrasound in medicine (71) compared ultrasound-guided versus non-guided Dextrose 10% prolotherapy injections in patients suffering from internal derangement in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).

  • The study population included 22 patients and 43 TMJs suffering from unilateral or bilateral TMJ painful clicking, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) proved disc displacement with reduction (DDWR), refractory to or failed conservative treatment.
  • The patients were divided randomly into two groups (non-guided and ultrasound (US)-guided groups).
  • Twenty-two patients 5 males and 17 females were included in this study. Average age about 27 years old

The researchers found both US-guided and non-guided groups with significant symptomatic improvement over time in both groups. US guidance allowed accurate anatomical localization and safe procedure with a single joint puncture.

Prolotherapy Injections versus the TMJ splint

A July 2021 paper in the journal Scientific Reports (43) tackled the problem of assessing consistent effective outcomes in patient treatment results utilizing Prolotherapy. The study authors write:

“Hypertonic dextrose prolotherapy (a higher concentration of dextrose is being injected) has been reported to be effective for temporomandibular disorders (TMDs) in clinical trials but its overall efficacy is uncertain.”

To assess this problem the researchers then conducted a systematic review (they looked at previously published studies) and analyzed those randomized controlled trials that met their criteria to synthesize evidence on the effectiveness of Prolotherapy for temporomandibular disorders. What they were looking for as good outcomes were levels of pain intensity. The secondary outcome they were looking for was mouth-opening ability.

Here are their results:

In a meta-analysis of 5 randomized controlled trials, dextrose prolotherapy was significantly superior to placebo injections in reducing TMJ pain at 12 weeks. In this systematic review and meta-analysis, evidence from low to moderate-quality studies shows that dextrose prolotherapy conferred a large positive effect that met the criteria for clinical relevance in the treatment of TMJ pain, compared with placebo injections.

In November  2020: Published in the Journal of Cranio-Maxillo-Facial Surgery (44) compared the effectiveness of  Dextrose Prolotherapy and occlusal (mouth) splints in treating internal derangement of the temporomandibular joint.

  • A total of 34 patients with temporomandibular joint internal derangement classed as Wilkes stages II or III were recruited for the study and were randomly divided into study and control groups with 17 patients each.
    • Wilkes stages for TMJ assessment
      • If you have been diagnosed with TMJ disorders you are probably aware of the Wilkes stages of TMJ assessment:
      • Wilkes stage II is typically characterized by a normal or seemingly normal range of jaw motion with intermittent episodes of pain, jaw locking, and clicking.
      • Wilkes stage II is typically characterized by more pain, frequent headaches, loss of range of motion, onset or development of TMJ disc damage, and deformity.
  • The patients in these control and study groups were treated with splints and Prolotherapy, respectively.
  • The patients were then monitored for pain, mouth opening range, clicking, and other deviations in proper jaw movement. These patients were followed for 0ne year.

Results: Nine patients in the (Prolotherapy) study group had a complete absence of pain, compared with only one (splint group) patient in the control group. The results showed that patients who received Prolotherapy demonstrated improvement in pain, mouth opening, and clicking, but no significant difference in deviation was observed between the groups after 1 year.

Conclusion: Prolotherapy was found to be superior in providing long-term clinical relief, with a reduction in pain and clicking along with improved mouth opening.

A December 2023 paper (45) did suggest that “simultaneous arthrocentesis and anterior repositioning splint therapy is effective in alleviating pain and improving mouth opening without discomfort in patients with unilateral painful TMD showing disc displacement with reduction with intermittent locking.”

Hypermobility, disc displacement, effusion or swelling, and instability of the TMJ.

TMJ, Joint Hypermobility Syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

Hypermobility of the TMJ means that the joint is loose and that the jaw is floating abnormally within the head causing grinding and degeneration at the joint. The TMJ discs and meniscus can be displaced causing the onset of osteoarthritis and the development of pain and bone spurs. Omnipresent in this situation is the problem of effusion or swelling adding pressure to the joint. The swelling and inflammation are there to try to stabilize the joint and the fluid is trying to provide a cushion from the degenerative process.

Prolotherapy and aspiration (arthrocentesis) provided significant relief for TMJ patients.

Doctors at Ordu University in Turkey published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (46) suggesting that Prolotherapy and aspiration (Arthrocentesis) provided significant relief for TMJ patients. In this October 2017 study, 10 adults with disc displacement and painful, hypermobile TMJ were selected.

  • Arthrocentesis and Prolotherapy were consecutively performed using a 30% dextrose solution that was simultaneously injected into five areas: posterior disc attachment, superior joint space, superior and inferior capsular attachments, and stylomandibular ligament.

Scoring tests were used to assess the maximum mouth opening, clicking sounds, pain, and subluxation of the TMJ. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis and parafunctional habits such as teeth clenching, grinding, and biting of the cheeks or any other objects and those who had undergone surgery were excluded from this study.

The ten patients, 7 women and 3 men (average age 36) received a single treatment session of combined arthrocentesis and Prolotherapy at the same office visit. Subluxation frequency and pain significantly decreased after the first week of treatment. Subluxation also decreased at the 3-month follow-up.

Clicking sound values did not significantly change at any of the follow-up time points. Maximum mouth opening values improved at all follow-up time points compared to baseline.

A September 2023 study in the medical journal Cranio, Journal of Craniomandibular Practice (47) also compared the effectiveness of dextrose Prolotherapy in conjunction with arthrocentesis (fluid draining of the TMJ) and dextrose Prolotherapy alone in the management of symptomatic TMJ hypermobility.

  • Twenty-four patients suffering from TMJ symptomatic hypermobility received 10% dextrose injections for three sessions at four-week intervals. (Three treatments, one every four weeks).
  • Twelve patients received Prolotherapy alone; the other 12 received Prolotherapy and arthrocentesis The arthrocentesis was only performed once.
  • Patients were evaluated for maximal incisal opening, maximal incisal opening without pain, pain at rest, pain during chewing function, TMJ sound, and locking episode frequency.
  • Results: Pain scores were significantly reduced in both groups, and the locking episode frequency was decreased to a greater extent in the Prolotherapy and arthrocentesis than in the Prolotherapy group, in both the short and long terms.
  • Conclusion: Prolotherapy is effective in the management of TMJ hypermobility. However, Prolotherapy with arthrocentesis may be superior to Prolotherapy alone in the management of TMJ hypermobility.

Prolotherapy, PRP, and mesenchymal stem cell-based treatment

In a December 2022 paper cited above, researchers writing in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences (48) summarized the problems of degenerative TMJ and possible solutions:

  • TMJ osteoarthritis affects all (of the TMJ) joint structures, including the articular cartilage, synovium, subchondral bone, capsule, ligaments, periarticular muscles, and sensory nerves that innervate the tissues. . . Chondrocyte loss, extracellular matrix (ECM) degradation, and subchondral bone remodeling are important factors in TMJ osteoarthritis.”
  • “In recent years, such therapies as intraarticular platelet-rich plasma (PRP), hyaluronic acid (HA), and mesenchymal stem cell-based treatment (MSCs) have shown promising results concerning the regeneration of joint structures or the protection against further damage in TMJ osteoarthritis. Nevertheless, PRP and MSCs are more frequently associated with cartilage and/or bone repair than hyaluronic acid. According to recent findings, hyaluronic acid could enhance the restorative potential of other therapies (PRP, MSCs) when used in combination, rather than repair TMJ structures by itself.

Stem Cell Therapy for TMJ

While we do offer stem cell therapy for our patients, this is not a treatment we often utilize as a first-line treatment. The documented results of the success of simple dextrose Prolotherapy have shown us that this treatment is effective and can result in significant enough improvement that stem cell therapy will not be offered. However, many people ask us about stem cell therapy.

Mesenchymal stem cell-based treatments (MSCs) have become a very popular treatment option. Research is coming in. Stem cell therapy can involve the use of bone marrow aspiration (or also concentrated) to get the stem cells to the site of the injury.

National University of Singapore doctors (49) found that they could regenerate the cartilage of the TMJ joint with a stem cell therapy solution and have recently released their report on stem cell therapy for TMJ and TMD. Here are summary facts on their paper.

  • Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD) represent a group of musculoskeletal and neuromuscular conditions involving the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), masticatory muscles, and/or associated structures.
  • They are a major cause of non-dental-related face and jaw pain.
  • The most common type of TMJ disorder involves displacement of the TMJ articular disc that precedes progressive degenerative changes of the joint leading to osteoarthritis.

We would like to point out again, that you cannot grow something out of nothing in the current mode of stem cell therapy. If the TMJ meniscus is removed, stem cells cannot regrow a new one.

In the past decade, progress made in the development of stem cell-based therapies, and tissue engineering has provided alternative methods to attenuate the disease symptoms and even replace the diseased tissue in the treatment of TMJ disorders. This represents innovative approaches to cell-based therapeutics, tissue engineering, and drug discovery in treatment.  This supports earlier research from the same researchers who stated: Stem cells could help regenerate bone and soft tissue. (50)

An April 2021 study in the journal Stem Cells International (51) described the possible use of stem cells in TMJ cases: “Current treatments for Temporomandibular joint osteoarthritis are mainly symptomatic therapies without reliable long-term efficacy. . . Recently, there has been increased interest in cellular therapies for osteoarthritis and TMJ regeneration. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), self-renewing, and multipotent progenitor cells play a promising role in Temporomandibular joint osteoarthritis. Derived from a variety of tissues, MSCs exert therapeutic effects through diverse mechanisms, including chondrogenic differentiation; fibrocartilage regeneration; and trophic, immunomodulatory, and anti-inflammatory effects.”

This was followed by similar research published in 2017 (52) which suggested: “Given the limited self-healing potentials of avascular cartilage, little effective therapy is available for the repair of normal TMJ tissues in osteoarthritis disease. Although conventional nonsurgical or surgical treatments can relieve joint pain to some extent, they cannot completely restore the TMJ function and reverse disease progression. MSCs, which have the multilineage differentiation potentials, may provide an alternative treatment for the cartilage degradation in TMJ osteoarthritis.”

Conversely, an August 2022 paper in the journal Cells (53) examining the outcomes of the treatment of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) articular pain and restricted maximum mouth opening with intra-articular administration of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), suggested that while the treatment may be helpful, studies talking of the treatments benefits are based on weak evidence.

Stem cell therapy remains controversial. For most, in our opinion, stem cell therapy is not some type of miracle, single-shot cure. Thinking it is, indeed, is an over-expectation of what the treatment can do.

Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy for TMJ

In patients where TMJ symptoms are more advanced. We may also use Platelet Rich Plasma therapy in addition to the Prolotherapy treatments. Here we extract a patient’s blood, spin out the healing platelets and growth factors, and inject that into the jaw/mandible area.

PRP application differs from office to office and in fact from research study to research study. In our office, we combine PRP treatments with Prolotherapy treatments to offer the patient a more comprehensive treatment. PRP injections in our office are typical “injections,” at each treatment, not a single injection.

A 2020 study published in the Journal of Oral & Facial Pain and Headache (54) examined the effect of Platelet-Rich Plasma Injections on pain reduction in patients with Temporomandibular Joint Osteoarthritis. In this paper, the research team examined 6 study outcomes and found according to the results of these trials, intra-articular injections of PRP were more effective than placebo for pain reduction (6 months post-injection and 12 months post-injection. Further: “Based on current evidence, PRP injections may reduce pain more effectively than placebo injections in Temporomandibular Joint Osteoarthritis at 6 months (level of evidence: moderate) and 12 months (level of evidence: moderate) postinjection. This significant difference in pain reduction could also be seen when PRP was compared to hyaluronic acid at 12 months post-injection (level of evidence: low). It can be cautiously interpreted that PRP has a beneficial effect on the relief of Temporomandibular Joint Osteoarthritis pain.

A 2015 study in the Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (55) shows emerging evidence suggesting platelet-rich plasma (PRP) might be of assistance in the treatment of degenerative conditions of the jaw joint.

In this study, PRP and hyaluronic acid treatments in temporomandibular joint (TMJ) osteoarthritis patients were compared over a long-term follow-up.

A total of 50 patients with TMJ-osteoarthritis were enrolled in the study (29 women and 21 men, age range 31 to 49 years, mean age 38.6).

  • In group I, 25 patients received 3 injections of 1 mL of PRP.
  • In group II, 25 patients received 3 injections of 1 mL of low-molecular-weight hyaluronic acid.

The hyaluronic acid group showed significant improvements at 1 and 3 months. However, at 6 and 12 months, the PRP group exhibited better performance compared with the hyaluronic acid group in terms of the recurrence of pain and joint sounds.

The PRP group performed better than the hyaluronic acid group in the treatment of TMJ-osteoarthritis during long-term follow-up in terms of pain reduction and increased interincisal distance.

Researchers at the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Jaipur Dental College, in India, published their findings in the National Journal of Maxillofacial Surgery (56) of their assessment of the effectiveness of PRP injections compared to hydrocortisone with local anesthetic in the conservative management of anterior disc displacement with reduction. The researchers found: “In the group of PRP injection, the pain was markedly reduced than the group of hydrocortisone with a local anesthetic; mouth opening was increased similarly in both groups, and TMJ sound was experienced lesser in patients who received PRP.”

Hydrocortisone against intra-articular injection of PRP

An October 2022 paper in the journal Bioinformation (64) assessed outcomes in 40 patients (64 TMJs treated) treated with local anesthesia combined with hydrocortisone against intra-articular injection of PRP to weigh the benefits of treatments for pain reduction, increase mouth opening, and minimize joint sound.

  • PRP was applied to 36 joints of 20 patients.
  • Hydrocortisone combined with local anesthetic was applied to 28 joints of 20 patients.

Patients were evaluated for tenderness, maximum inter incisal opening (distance between upper and lower teeth on opening), and clicking sound at TMJ prior to and following treatment at intervals of one week, one month, and 6 months of the first week and third month.

Although both types of study participants got a reduction in pain, increased opening of mouth, and reduction in clicking sound, the difference between the two groups was not significant statistically however the results were slightly better in study participants receiving platelet rich plasma injections. This study demonstrated that intra-articular injection of PRP was more successful in treating patients in this trial than local anesthetic combined with hydrocortisone.

PRP and hyaluronic acid injections

A 2019 study from the University of Verona in Italy published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences (57) evaluated the effectiveness of arthrocentesis (TMJ aspiration) or injections with platelet-rich plasma in temporomandibular affections and compared them to arthrocentesis alone or with hyaluronic acid or to hyaluronic acid injections.

The researchers found:

  • TMJ aspiration with platelet-rich plasma and platelet-rich plasma injections in temporomandibular disorders’ management were found to be effective in reducing pain and joint sound (clicking and popping) as well as in improving mandibular motion in a maximum follow-up of 24 months. Comparison to arthrocentesis alone or to hyaluronic acid injections used in arthrocentesis or injections provided encouraging results in terms of the effectiveness of platelet-rich plasma use.

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) after arthrocentesis

A November 2023 paper published in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation (65) reviewed the data of seven previously published studies to assess the effectiveness and patient satisfaction of intra-articular injections of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) after arthrocentesis and compare those results with other treatments, such as injections of hyaluronic acid or saline after arthrocentesis. Five of the studies found that PRP injections have led to significant improvements in mandibular range of motion and pain intensity up to 12 months after treatment as compared to hyaluronic acid or saline after arthrocentesis, while the remaining two studies found similar results for the different treatments.

PRP combined with physical therapy

A September 2021 study in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation (58) assessed the effectiveness of platelet-rich plasma injection combined with physical therapy for the treatment of temporomandibular joint osteoarthritis. These are the summary highlights of this paper:

  • This prospective cohort study included 40 patients with TMJ-osteoarthritis who received PRP injection or PRP injection combined with individualized comprehensive physical therapy.
  • Pain intensity, maximum mouth opening, temporomandibular joint sounds, and the Jaw Functional Limitation Scale (JFLS) scores and imaging findings were compared before treatment and during follow-up.

Results:

  • The pain intensity, maximum mouth opening, and temporomandibular joint sounds of the two groups significantly improved with an increase in treatment time.
  • The pain improvement in the combined treatment group was greater than that in the PRP injection group at three and six months.
  • The improvement of mouth opening was better in the combined treatment group, whereas the improvement of joint sounds was better in the PRP injection group.
  • The improvement in Jaw Functional Limitation Scale scores in the combined treatment group was greater than that in the PRP injection group at 6 months. The imaging improvement rates of the two groups were similar.

Conclusions:

“Platelet-rich plasma injection can significantly improve pain, mouth opening, abnormal joint sound, and mandibular function in patients with TMJ-osteoarthritis and has good repair effect on condylar bone defects. PRP injection combined with individualized comprehensive physical therapy can effectively control the medium- and long-term pain of patients.”

More on “blood injections”

Platelet Rich Plasma is a blood injection, the blood is taken from you and spun in a centrifuge to separate the blood platelets. It is this separated fluid with concentrated platelets that gives Platelet Rich Plasma its name, and the injection of plasma rich in platelets. There are also autologous blood injections where the blood is taken from one part of the body and simply put back into the painful area, in this case, the jaw and TMJ joint.

“Blood injections” can be somewhat painful, as the blood is very thick. This is why Platelet Rich Plasma injections started to gain popularity because they could offer the healing factor benefits of blood in a less thick injectable.

We are going to look at a January 2020 systematic review paper from the Department of Orofacial Pain and Jaw Function, Malmö University in Sweden published in the journal Clinical Oral Investigations (59) here the doctors looked at a comparison of autologous blood injection and a TMJ Prolotherapy treatment program.

To assess these treatments in comparison, the doctors examined previously published research on randomized controlled trials on TMJ luxation treatment.

  • Results: In the absence of randomized studies on surgical techniques (none of the papers directly compared autologous blood injections, Prolotherapy, and surgery), autologous blood injection in the superior joint space and pericapsular tissues with intermaxillary fixation seems to be the treatment for recurrent TMJ luxation that at present has the best scientific support. (In other words, the most supportive research was found on autologous blood injections/PRP injections).”
  • However, the researchers did point out that “These studies reported that mouth opening after treatment was reduced and that independent of the type of injection (autologous blood injections/PRP injections or Prolotherapy), recurrences of TMJ luxation were rare in most patients. (Dislocations became rare).”

A December 2022 paper (60) published in the National Journal of Maxillofacial Surgery (of India) compared autologous blood (your blood) prolotherapy and 25% dextrose prolotherapy for the treatment of chronic recurrent temporomandibular joint dislocation.

  • In this study, 20 patients with chronic recurrent TMJ dislocation were treated with either autologous blood (Group A) or 25% dextrose Prolotherapy (Group B). After prolotherapy, the patients were kept on follow-up and evaluated for maximum mouth opening (MMO), pain at visual analog scale (VAS), mandibular movements, frequency of dislocation, and TMJ sound.

Results: Group A, the autologous blood prolotherapy patients showed better results in terms of reduction in maximum mouth opening (MMO), and mandibular movements as compared to Group B (the 25% dextrose Prolotherapy), and a statistically significant difference was found starting from 2 weeks post prolotherapy till 6 months follow-up. Whereas 25% of dextrose Prolotherapy patients showed better results regarding reduction in pain intensity on the visual analog scale (VAS)  at all follow-up visits. No statistically significant difference was found between both groups regarding reduction in the frequency of dislocation and TMJ sounds.

A January 2023 paper in the Journal of Maxillofacial and Oral Surgery (61) divided thirty-two patients into autologous blood injections and dextrose prolotherapy injections. Pain level, joint hypermobility, maximal mouth opening, and frequency of dislocations were recorded at various follow-up intervals up to one-year post-treatment. The researchers found both, autologous blood injections and dextrose prolotherapy, proved effective in reducing the pain and joint hypermobility associated with chronic recurrent TMJ dislocation within a week. ABI proved to be more efficient in reducing the mouth opening and limiting the dislocation of TMJ as compared to dextrose therapy.

In a September 2023 paper in the Journal of Clinical Medicine (62), researchers however wrote: “The allegedly superior efficacy of blood to hypertonic dextrose (prolotherapy) in dislocation relief is based on only one study of 32 patients. (The above study).  Both therapies are probably highly effective, however, based on the collected material, no further conclusions can be drawn and this issue undoubtedly requires further research.

Twelve years after our own research on TMJ patients

In the research mentioned above from our Caring Medical research team and published in 2007, our doctors reported on successful dextrose Prolotherapy for patients with chronic neck pain. In this study, fourteen patients who suffered from TMJ pain for an average of 5.4 years and had seen, on average, four medical doctors—including half who were told that no other treatment options were available.

Overall, substantial improvements were reported in:

  • range of motion,
  • pain medicine utilization,
  • disability,
  • depression/anxiety,
  • quality of life,
  • and patient satisfaction.

These improvements persisted through follow-up at eighteen months after the conclusion of Prolotherapy treatments.

We found:

Prolotherapy is a safe and effective natural medicine treatment for repairing tendon, ligament, and cartilage damage. In simple terms, Prolotherapy stimulates the body to repair painful areas. It does so by inducing a mild inflammatory reaction in the weakened ligaments and cartilage. Since the body heals from inflammation, Prolotherapy stimulates healing.

The Physical and emotional aspects of TMJ

In our 2007 study, we noted:

  • Prior to Prolotherapy, 56% of patients reported feelings of depression and 64% reported feelings of anxiety.
  • After treatments, only 28% reported depressed feelings and 36% reported feelings of anxiety.
  • Patients reported that on average 86% of the improvements in depression and anxiety have at least somewhat continued.
  • Seventy-eight percent of these patients reported 75% continuing improvement at the time of follow-up.

Let’s move to a 2017 study from a team of Swedish and Danish researchers writing in the medical journal Cephalalgia: An International Journal of Headache(63) Here is a review of that study:

  • Chronic pain is the overwhelming reason that patients with TMD seek treatment.
  • TMD can associate with impaired general health, depression, and other psychological disabilities, and may affect the quality of life of the patient.
  • The most common types of TMD,
    • include pain-related disorders (e.g., myalgia, headache attributable to TMD, and jaw joint pain) as well as disorders associated with the TMJ (primarily disc displacements and degenerative disease).
  • As peripheral mechanisms (nerve and pain signals) most likely play a role in the onset of TMD, a detailed muscle examination is recommended.

Conclusion: The persistence of pain involves more central factors, such as sensitization of the supraspinal neurons and second-order neurons at the level of the spinal dorsal horn/trigeminal nucleus (central neural pathways relevant to TMJ/TMD pain),  imbalanced antinociceptive activity (the ability to block pain), and strong genetic predisposition (family history).

Because the cure for TMD has been so elusive, perhaps no other disorder involves so many allied healthcare professionals including pain clinicians, dentists, physical therapists, psychologists, mental health professionals, speech-language pathologists, physiatrists, radiologists, internists, family physicians, endodontists, orofacial surgeons, otolaryngologists, neurologists, and craniofacial specialists. Exploring treatment options such as Prolotherapy may offer benefits not offered by these specialties. Prolotherapy can be an effective treatment for chronic neck, head, TMJ, facial, ear, and mouth pain because it strengthens the structures that are causing the pain.

An October 2022 paper in the journal Cureus (63) helps sum this article up this way: “TMJ prolotherapy, like other joint treatments, can be beneficial to individuals who have a temporomandibular disorder (TMD) that is resistive to or has demonstrated only limited improvement with physical medicine, dietary restrictions, and home care. It can also benefit patients who have not improved sufficiently with oral appliances, or who are unable or unable to wear such equipment, and who are unsuitable or unwilling candidates for TMJ surgery.”

We hope you found this article informative and that it helped answer many of the questions you may have surrounding your TMJ issues.  If you would like to get more information specific to your challenges please email us: Get help and information from our Caring Medical staff

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Further reading

TMJ: The other symptoms: Neck pain, muscle spasms, myofascial pain, breathing problems, digestive disorders and dizziness

TMJ and Tinnitus: Should we explore the ligament chain from the cervical spine through the neck to the jaw to the ear?

Ernest Syndrome | Is this the answer to unresolved TMJ, facial, ear and throat pain?

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