What are Temporomandibular Joint Disorders?
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is essential to your dog’s ability to bite or chew because it is this joint (the hinge) that makes the jaw open and close correctly. Any type of disorder in the TMJ area can prevent your dog from opening or closing his mouth. There are several reasons that your dog may have gotten a TMJ disorder, such as injury, dislocation, and chronic swelling due to dental or other problems. Dogs that have a long muzzle or a short muzzle are more susceptible to TMJ disorders.
The sooner you get treatment for your dog the easier and more successful the treatment will be. Waiting for it to go away or get better will make it harder to treat because it will just keep getting worse with time.
Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ) will result in your dog not being able to fully open or close its mouth. Dislocation can happen with or without any fractures in the bones. A partial or complete dislocation (rostral or caudal), trauma (with or without broken bones), or chronic inflammation may be the cause of the TMJ. The disorder usually presents as either the inability to close the mouth or being unable to open the mouth.
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Symptoms of Temporomandibular Joint Disorders in Dogs
- Unable to open or close mouth
- Clicking noise when opening or closing mouth
- Swelling or lump on side of face (misplaced mandible bone)
- Deformed mouth or face
- Whining when eating
- Inability to eat
- Visible pain when opening mouth
- Appetite loss
- Extreme loss of weight
- Traumatic (with or without fractures)
Causes of Temporomandibular Joint Disorders in Dogs
- Injury to the jaw from trauma whether there are fractures or not
- Joint stress from carrying items that are too heavy in their mouth, which causes chronic inflammation
- Some dogs are predisposed to certain TMJ disorders. Dogs with longer muzzles (i.e. collie, greyhound) and those with extremely short muzzles (i.e. pug, chihuahua) are more susceptible just because of the length of the jaws; to be specific, a dog with a longer muzzle has a longer lower jaw, which results in more interdental space in the jaw, those with shorter muzzles have a shorter upper jaw and smaller interdental spaces.
Diagnosis of Temporomandibular Joint Disorders in Dogs
The veterinarian will need to know about your dog’s complete medical history, such as any recent illness or injury, vaccination records, changes in diet or behavior, what symptoms you have noticed, when the symptoms started, and whether they have gotten any worse. Be sure to let the veterinarian know if your dog has been at any dog parks, doggie day care, or other places where your dog could have had an altercation with another dog. They will do a thorough physical examination of your dog, including blood pressure, body temperature, and heart rate. The veterinarian will examine your dog’s jaw and try to manipulate it and he may have to use sedation if the examination is too painful or if your dog is resisting.
The veterinarian will need to run some tests as well. These tests include urinalysis, blood chemistry panel, complete blood count (CBC), and digital radiographs of the head and mouth. It may also be necessary to do an MRI and CT scan to get some more comprehensive views of the problem. If the veterinarian sees any dental issues, he may send you to see a veterinary dentist for further treatment.
Treatment of Temporomandibular Joint Disorders in Dogs
The treatment your veterinarian chooses will depend on what type of TMJ disorder your dog has. He may wait to see what the dentist has to say before any treatment is decided on just in case dental work needs to be done first. Some things the veterinarian may do in each type of disorder are:
In most cases, the veterinarian can manipulate the joint back into place and then insert a bite plate or just place a wrap on your dog’s muzzle to keep him from opening it. Your veterinarian will show you how to feed your dog with a feeding tube until the plate or wrap can be removed (which may only be 24 to 48 hours. If the joint does not stay in place after several tries, your veterinarian will suggest surgery to repair the joint. This may include removing a part of the jaw that is causing the problem or using wires to hold the position of the jaw.
Traumatic (with fracture)
Depending on the extent of the damage, the veterinarian may be able to repair the jaw with manipulation under anesthesia. The fracture may be able to be stabilized if it is minor, but usually it is necessary for the veterinarian to surgically repair the fracture with wires or metal plates. Your dog will need to be kept in the hospital for one or two nights and then allowed to go home with cage rest and a feeding tube. It may take up to three months to heal.
Traumatic (without fracture)
When there is no fracture, the damage is usually not serious and the veterinarian can manipulate the joint back into place with your dog under anesthesia.
IV fluids, anti-inflammatory medication, and steroids will be given to relieve the swelling and pain. Once the swelling goes down, you will be able to take your dog home with a prescription for anti-inflammatory medication.
Recovery of Temporomandibular Joint Disorders in Dogs
In all cases, the veterinarian will give you medication for your dog for swelling and pain as well as an antibiotic for possible infection. You will be instructed to use ice for the pain and swelling and heat for relaxation and circulation. He may also give you some exercises to do with your dog and encourage you to try massage therapy. It is important to follow the veterinarian’s instructions and to come back for a follow-up visit. Call your veterinarian if you notice more pain or swelling in your dog or if your dog will not eat or drink. Chances of recovery are excellent if you catch the disorder right away and get treatment as soon as possible.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorders Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My dog has had problems opening her mouth on and off for the past 4 months where her head will tilt to the left when she yawns or just lick her lips. You can tell she’s in pain b/c she is hesitant to open her mouth and isn’t her usual playful self. The vet prescribed antibiotics as well as gabapentin. She will get better for a week or so and then show the same symptoms. After an X-ray my vet says she has tmj dysplasia and needs to see a specialist. Doesn’t tmj dyslasia cause trouble closing mouth, not trouble opening? And are these symptoms consistent with dysplasia? My vet isn’t too familiar with it.
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Two days ago I noticed my dog couldn't shut her mouth and she's been drooling a lot she still seems to be playing with my other dog and happy like there's no pain but it almost looks dislocated it kind of hangs
If you are noticing that the lower jaw is hanging it would be something that would need to be examined by your Veterinarian and would require an x-ray to look for any signs of anomalies or trauma before deciding on a method of correction. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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My 7yr old male/neutered Bullmastiff grinds his teeth. He has done this for a few years now. I brush his teeth daily, and I do not see anything wrong in his mouth. He has no time ad any injuries or illnesses. He is on Rimadyl and Tramadol for his hips. What can I do?
Teeth grinding (bruxism) is usually related to pain, if there are no signs of injury or problems with the mouth then the pain from another part of his body (hips) may be causing Barghest to grind his teeth. To rule out oral pain, a thorough examination of the alignment of Barghest’s teeth as well as x-rays to see the jaw etc… is important to ensure that the cause for the teeth grinding isn’t the teeth themselves; after ruling out the teeth, all other possible causes should be identified and checked before concluding on the hips. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
I have a Pitbull and Border Collie mix.... I'm thinking he has TMJ. He has about every symptom. I'm taking him to the vet tomorrow for test and x-ray
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