TMJ - Temporomandibular Joint Disorders

Jaw pain

By Sarah Leavitt, Medical Research EditorLast modified: September 05, 2011

TMJ - Temporomandibular Joint Disorders

Temporomandibular Joint Disorders, commonly known as TMJ disorders, are a condition affecting the joints of the jaw and the surrounding muscles. Over 35 million people have been diagnosed with TMJ in the United States. 


The temporomandibular joints are the bones that connects the skull to the jaw and is a vital joint for speaking and eating. When TMJ disorder develops, patients may have difficulty and pain when forming normal facial expressions.


The jaw is connected to the skull via a temporomandibular joint on each side of the jaw

 TMJ Disorder

TMJ disorder develops when one or both of these joints becomes damaged.


As this image shows, the temporomandibular joint is connected to the skull and is located close to the ear.



Symptoms of TMJ

Temporomandibular joint disorder can cause a range of symptoms. Patients may experience pain or aching in the jaw and the jaw may 'pop' out of position or click when the mouth is moved. Other patients experience experience difficulties swallowing and stiffness in the jaw. In the most extreme cases, TMJ causes chronic ear ache and pain in the nek and shoulders. Dental problems arise from TMJ often as a result of the jaw moving to overcompensate for the disfunctionality of the damaged joint.


As the temporomandibular joint is so close to the ears, hearing problems, pain in the ears and dizziness can be symptoms of TMJ. 


Causes of TMJ

Problems with the temporomandibular joint can appear suddenly or develop slowly. Many patients experience slight discomfort in the jaw when making certain movements with the mouth and this discomfort increases to pain as the condition develops.


It is not known why all cases of TMJ develop. Patients may have a genetic disposition to disorders of the temporomandibular joint. If any member of your family has suffered from TMJ pain, it is recommended dental x-rays are taken to prevent future development of the condition.


Injury to the jaw, night-time ginding of teeth (bruxism), stress-related clenching of the jaw and auto-immune diseases can trigger outbreaks of TMJ pain or bring on the condition.


TMJ is most commonly caused by arthritis in the jaw, dislocation of the jawbone or a misaligned bite. Correct alignment of the teeth in the gum is known as central occlusion. If all teeth are centrally aligned, the upper and lower jaw will meet correctly when the mouth is opened and closed. Incorrect alignment of teeth causing difficulty closing both sets of teeth together (impaired occlusion) puts pressure on the temporomandibular joint. 


Treatment for TMJ pain

TMJ pain often occurs in periods; a patient may experience no pain for years and suffer with discomfort for a few weeks. If this is the case, often patients are able to manage the pain themselves by avoiding exaggerated mouth movements and chewing carefully.


If the pain of in the TMJ has been triggered by clenching of the jaw or bruxism, dentists are able to provide mouth guards tailored to the patients mouth to prevent clenching/grinding and re-train the brain to avoid these activities. Exercises can also be advised to help relax the jaw after periods of grinding/clenching. 


Impaired occlusion will require corrective dental treatment as incorrectly aligned teeth can cause further dental problems. 


It is important patients schedule an appointment with a dentist as TMJ can often lead to dental complications.


Find a dentist offering TMJ treatment near you.






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This article was written by the medical research team at does not intend for any of the information on this site to be regarded as medical advice - it is meant as a starting point for understanding treatment details and options before contacting a registered, licensed doctor. We advise all patients to seek medical advice from a doctor.
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