What is TMJ surgery?

Updated June 13, 2017

TMJ is the medical term for conditions affecting the temporomandibular joint in a person's jaw. Adults and children are both prone to having TMJ disorders. Some treatment options include braces, medications and physiotherapy. When conventional treatments fail to help or if there is damage to the joint, there are several different surgical operations that can be performed to help manage the pain for the TMJ disorders.


Arthroplasty is a term for several different surgeries used to treat TMJ conditions. These surgeries include a discectomy, disk repositioning, condylotomy and joint replacement. Each surgical procedure has the ability to offer relief to the painful symptoms of TMJ. The surgery options also carry risks. Oedema, increased pain, bleeding and infections may occur after a TMJ operation. An injury of the ear or nerves is possible during an arthroplasty surgery. The arthroplasty procedure helps to improve the function of the temporomandibular joint, but the individual may continue to experience pain.

Disc Repositioning

Some TMJ disorders are caused by a cartilage disc has slipped out of position. The movement of the cartilage causes a popping sound when the individual opens her mouth. The disk may also pinch surrounding nerves and cause a great deal of pain. A disc repositioning surgery is performed to manipulate the disk back into position and secure it in place. The surgery is done using general anaesthesia and normally requires a short hospital stay.


A discectomy is needed when the cartilage disc is severely damaged and is no longer able to provide cushioning to the temporomandibular joint. A discectomy is also performed when a disk repositioning surgery has failed to keep the disk in place. Some disks will continually slip out of position or will move within the joint. These TMJ conditions make good candidates for the discectomy surgery. Like the repositioning surgery, a discectomy requires a short hospital stay and general anaesthesia. The purpose of the operation is to remove the disc material and allow scar tissue to grow and fill the joint space. Recovery for the discectomy surgery takes weeks to months. The scar tissue will help decrease the friction of the bones rubbing together in the joint.


A condylotomy involves surgically reshaping the condyle in the jaw. The condyle is the bony piece that extends into the disc. A condylotomy is not as common for a surgical procedure. It is usually only performed for cases of extreme trauma to the joint.

TMJ Replacement

If the joint is badly damaged and no other option is available, the temporomandibular joint may be removed and replaced. The jaw is first wired shut to hold the mouth in position. The joint is surgically removed and a new graft is placed. After shaping the new condyle and smoothing surrounding areas, the graft is screwed into the jaw. The best resource for building a new temporomandibular joint is from the person's own rib bone.

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About the Author

Abigail Adams began her freelance writing career in 2009, teaching others about medical conditions and promoting wellness by writing on online health and fitness publications. She is educated and licensed as a registered nurse, having received her degree from North Georgia College and State University.