illustration of cells dividingFor those of you who have been following my blog, you will recall that TMJ stands for your Temporomandibular Joints (jaw joints). Each person has a left and right TMJ and can experience a problem or dysfunction in one side or both.  A TMJ Dysfunction is typically referred to as TMD.  The TMJ has many ligaments that are often overlooked by many medical providers. These ligaments are the sphenomandibular, stylomandibular, and capsular ligaments.

These ligaments pictured above are responsible for limiting excessive openings of the jaw. They stabilize the jaw joint and act like a piece of tape would, by preventing movements that are not supposed to occur. You can think of the jaw joint in the same regard as your knee, hip, shoulder or elbow.  All of these joints belong to the same group called synovial joints, which are the most common and most movable type of joint in the body.  Similar to other fibrocartilages such as the knee meniscus, the TMJ disc contains a mixed population of cells.  There are between 20 and 50 million cells per gram of tissue.

Stem cells are cells of the body, which have the ability to divide and differentiate themselves for a particular use.  The stem cells function is very specific.  Because they possess a regenerative purpose, they offer new potentials for treating certain ailments and diseases.

In recent years, more and more studies have been done with stem cells, suggesting that they can have a significant role in regenerating and/or repairing the temporomandibular joints (TMJs).  The most common TMJ disorder is the displacement of the articular disc/s (eventually leading to degenerative changes in the joint).  By injecting stem cells into the joint space, diseased tissue can be repaired, the joints can be regenerated, osteoarthritis can be reduced, and new condylar cartilage can be produced.

TMJ Stem Cell Treatment

One TMJ treatment, albeit lesser-known, is stem cell therapy for jaw issues. Repair begins with injection – the cells are introduced into the TMJ, the affected cells tell the new cells what they need, and thus the regeneration process begins.
Ideally, you want to use stem cells that are already present in your body to increase the chance of acceptance. These cells are collected through a minimally invasive procedure (similar to liposuction).  The cells are then separated from the fat and can be injected into the TMJ.  These cells can also be given by IV to reach the joint via the bloodstream.
If you cannot use your own cells, then you would use donor cells.  With donor stem cells, however, there is a high risk of rejection by the recipient. Even if the donor cells are accepted, they could possibly introduce pathogens into the implantation area.
More and more research is being performed so that these patients suffering from TMJ disorders may finally have a solution that doesn’t involve surgery.  With advances in stem cell research, these patients could be pain-free after just a few injections.  I will keep you updated on any additional studies that come out in 2017.