Researchers Developing Biological TMJ Prosthetic

Young girl smiling with braces

​A recent study by researchers at the University of California Irvine and published in Science Daily reveals that an estimated one in four Americans now suffers from some level of dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint. The temporomandibular joint is a hinging disc joint that connects the temporal bone to the lower jaw. When a dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint is present, it can cause pain and stiffness of the jaw, as well as ringing in the ears; pain in the neck, back and head; and even teeth grinding.

Dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint can be caused both by genetics or by injury, and currently there is no cure and very few options for treating the condition. But now, due to its increasing commonality, the FDA has issued a call to action among researchers to help find more solutions to treat this painful condition.

Dentist Dr. Alexandra George treats temporomandibular joint dysfunctions (also known as TMJD, TMJ disorder or TMJ dysfunction) in her clinic in Wexford, Pennsylvania. She says that, while effective, treatment for TMJ dysfunctions are still very limited.

“We have seen a lot of success with neuromuscular orthodontics and physical therapy, but there is no quick fix,” she said. “There are surgeries, but as of right now only about 5 percent of TMJD cases qualify for surgery.”

But that could all change if a procedure being developed by the team at UC Irvine gets FDA approval. In the study, researchers set out to develop a biologically grown disc to replace damaged or worn temporomandibular joints. This is not the first time a replacement temporomandibular joint has been created. In the 1980s a Teflon joint was manufactured, to devastating consequences. Though the prosthetic disc seemed durable, with use the discs began to break apart, sending Teflon fragments into the brains of recipients of the prostheses. The artificial joints were pulled from the market, and there has not been a replacement joint option since. That is, until now.

“The UC Irvine team was able to grow a new temporomandibular joint and successfully place it in the jaw of a pig,” George said. “Within about two months, the jaw was fully functional again.”

The next step for the UC Irvine team is to replicate the study in larger animals, and then hopefully in humans. But whether the new joint works in larger subjects, doctors like George say it’s still a step in the right direction.

“The good news is that the FDA has recognized what a growing problem TMJ disorders are, and they’re willing to work on addressing it,” she said.

Dr. Alexandra S. George

Medically reviewed by Dr. Alexandra S. George - D.D.S., L.Vl.I.F. on February 8th, 2020