Medications to Treat TMJ Disorders

TMJ symptoms that are debilitating or interfere with everyday activities may be treated with over-the-counter or prescription medications. Patients should be sure to ask a qualified health care provider about possible medication side effects, interactions, and serious reactions.

Medications used to treat TMJ pain include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), tricyclic antidepressants, and muscle relaxants.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen) can effectively relieve pain from TMJ disorders—especially when paired with gentle exercises that stretch the muscles around the jaw. Side effects vary depending on the type of NSAID and include gastrointestinal problems (e.g., irritation, bleeding, nausea), dizziness, and blurred vision. NSAIDs also may increase the risk for heart attack and stomach ulcer and patients should be sure to tell their doctor if they have a history of either of these conditions.

Tricyclic antidepressants (e.g., amitriptyline, nortriptyline) taken before sleep are sometimes prescribed to treat pain associated with a TMJ disorder. Side effects vary and include dizziness, nausea, dry mouth, and sleepiness. To avoid serious "rebound" side effects, antidepressants should not be discontinued abruptly. Tricyclic antidepressants may increase the risk for suicidal thoughts. Patients who are taking these medications should tell their doctor if they have a history of bipolar disorder or mania, or if they experience suicidal thoughts.

Muscle relaxants (e.g., carisoprodol) may be used on a temporary basis to relieve severe pain caused by TMJ. However, due to a risk for dependency, this medication must be used with caution when other treatment options have not been effective. Serious side effects of muscle relaxants include breathing difficulty, weakness, fever, or burning sensation in the eyes. Patients should contact their physician immediately if they experience any of these side effects.

Rarely, corticosteroids are injected into the TMJ area to reduce inflammation and relieve symptoms of TMJ disorders. Side effects include swelling of the jaw area and other complications. Botulinum toxin type A (Botox) is sometimes suggested for the treatment of TMJ disorders; however, little research about the safety and effectiveness of this treatment for TMJ is available at this time.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 18 Aug 2009

Last Modified: 06 Oct 2015