What is TMJ pain?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) acts like a sliding hinge, connecting your jawbone to your skull. You have one joint on each side of your jaw. Pain in the temporomandibular joint may occur in 10 percent of the population and Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD) have been reported in 46.1 percent of the US population. Inflammation within the joint accounts for TMD pain. 

Common suggested factors for TMD include bruxism (teeth grinding), trauma, bite abnormalities, and emotional stressors. Chronic joint disorders are more frequently associated with painful derangement of the TMJ.  Management of TMD is usually achieved with reducing stress on the joint through exercises and splint therapy, coupled with medications such as anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants.  

What are Temporomandibular disorders? 

Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) are a complex and poorly understood set of conditions characterized by pain in the jaw joint and surrounding tissues and limitation in jaw movements. Injuries and other conditions that routinely affect other joints in the body, such as arthritis, also affect the Temporomandibular Joint. One or both joints may be involved and, depending on the severity, can affect a person’s ability to speak, chew, swallow, make facial expressions, and even breathe. 

The exact cause of a person’s TMD is often difficult to determine. Your pain may be due to a combination of factors, such as genetics, arthritis or jaw injury. Some people who have jaw pain also tend to clench or grind their teeth (bruxism), although many people habitually clench or grind their teeth and never develop TMD. 

In most cases, the pain and discomfort associated with TMD is temporary and can be relieved with self-managed care or nonsurgical treatments. Surgery is typically a last resort after conservative measures have failed, but some people with TMD may benefit from surgical treatments. 

Symptoms of TMD

The pain of TMD is often described as a dull, aching pain, which comes and goes in the jaw joint and nearby areas. However, some people report no pain but still have problems moving their jaws.

Symptoms may include the following: 

  • pain in the jaw muscles 
  • pain in the neck and shoulders 
  • chronic headaches 
  • jaw muscle stiffness 
  • limited movement or locking of the jaw 
  • ear pain, pressure, fullness, ringing in the ears (tinnitus) 
  • painful clicking, popping or grating in the jaw joint when opening or closing the mouth 
  • a bite that feels “off” 
  • dizziness 
  • vision problems 

Treatments for TMD

Most people with TMD have relatively mild or periodic symptoms which may improve on their own within weeks or months with simple home therapy. Self-care practices, such as eating soft foods, applying ice or moist heat, and avoiding extreme jaw movements (such as wide yawning, loud singing, and gum chewing) are helpful in easing symptoms. According to the NIH, because more studies are needed on the safety and effectiveness of most treatments for jaw joint and muscle disorders, experts strongly recommend using the most conservative, reversible treatments possible. 

Conservative treatments do not invade the tissues of the face, jaw, or joint, or involve surgery. Reversible treatments do not cause permanent changes in the structure or position of the jaw or teeth. Even when TM disorders have become persistent, most patients still do not need aggressive types of treatment.

For more information about TMD, contact the TMJ Association.  

Share on facebook
Share on email
Share on twitter

Learn

Browse Recent Articles

View or Download the Patient Guide

Learn more about neuropathic facial pain, including how to get a diagnosis, treatments, and more by viewing or downloading our free patient guide.

By filling out the form below, you will receive a free FPA Patient Guide and periodic updates on the management and treatment of facial pain conditions. We do not share this information with any outside sources.

By filling out the form below, you will receive a free FPA Patient Guide and periodic updates on the management and treatment of facial pain conditions. We do not share this information with any outside sources.