TMJ Disorders

What are TMJ Disorders?

TMJ disorders are conditions that affect the temporomandibular joints. This is a kind of hinge that connects the temporal bones of your skull with your jaw and they can be found in front of the ears. It is the joint that allows you to talk, yawn, and chew by moving your jaw up and down or side to side.

The correct term is actually TMD or temporormandibular disorders. TMJ disorders can be caused from an injury to the jaw or the joint. It can also come from clenching or grinding your teeth, arthritis in the joint or stress. Sometimes the soft disc-like cushion between the socket and ball of the joint can move causing TMJ disorders, as well.

What are the Symptoms of TMJ Disorders?

One of the first symptoms that is noticed by people with TMJ disorders is pain.  It can last for years and can affect both or only one side of the face.  Women tend to get it more than men and people between the ages of 20-40 years are more likely to have it.

Besides pain, you may also experience tenderness in the jaw area or even in the shoulders or neck. Chewing, opening the mouth wide and speaking can trigger discomfort. The jaws can get stuck in the open or closed position and you might hear or feel a popping, clicking or grating in the joint when you chew or yawn.

It might feel like your teeth do not fit together right and selling on the side of the face is not unusual. Some people even experience dizziness, earaches, headaches, ringing in the ears, and toothaches.

TMJ Disorders Causes

It is not always clear what causes TMJ disorders. The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are unique to any other throughout the body since they permit both hinge and sliding motions to give our mouths a full range of motion. As a result, they are highly complex, which means there is a lot of potential for things to go wrong. It could be a strain of the muscles which control jaw function, a displaced disc within the jaw, or dislocation or injury to the bones involved which causes TMJ pain.

Sometimes TMJ disorders are caused by arthritis, which may or may not affect other parts of the body too. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage between two bones wears away, causing pain. Rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory disease which can impact the whole body, could also cause TMJ disorders as a secondary condition. Similarly, conditions such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome might result in pain in the jaw.

Sometimes TMJ disorders occur as a result of stress and teeth grinding or clenching, which usually happens during sleep. It is also widely believed that poor jaw alignment, known as “bad bite”, or orthodontic braces could cause TMJ disorders, but there is research which disputes these claims.

How are TMJ Disorders Treated?

The type of treatment that is recommended will depend on the cause of the TMJ disorder.  If you have a lot of pain and swelling, NSAIDs may be suggested. If your jaw locks up or if you clench your teeth a lot a muscle relaxer can be helpful. People who are clenching their teeth because of stress may find relief with an anti-anxiety medication that can be prescribed by a doctor.

If the main cause of the TMJ disorder is night grinding or clenching of the teeth, your dentist might recommend a night guard that prevents your teeth from touching. It can help correct your bite.  A splint may also be used and it is worn all the time compared to a night guard, which is only worn at night.

Your dentist may also suggest some dental work like braces or crowns or replacing missing teeth.  This can correct a bit problem and balance the surfaces of the teeth.

TMJ Disorders Prevention

Since the cause of TMJ disorders isn’t always known, it is impossible to prevent all cases. However, individuals may be able to reduce the risk of the disorders, particularly if they already have occasional bouts of jaw pain, by adopting the following advice.

How to avoid TMJ pain include:

  • Avoid very hard or chewy foods
  • Do not chew gum regularly
  • Avoid taking large bites of food
  • Support the lower jaw with your hand when yawning
  • Massage the jaw, cheeks and temples regularly
  • Ensure your head is adequately supported at night
  • Do not cradle the phone between the head and shoulder

Teeth grinding, known as bruxism, should also be stopped to reduce the risk of TMJ disorders. Occlusal splints, often known as bite guards, could be worn at night to reduce bruxism and protect the teeth from damage, but they might now eliminate jaw movement and clenching altogether.

Hypnosis, meditation and autosuggestion could all be helpful in helping to break the habit of teeth grinding.

Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
September 11, 2017