Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders









Many adults suffer from some common symptoms including:

  • pain in or around the ear,
  • tenderness of the jaw,
  • clicking or popping noises when opening the mouth,
  • headaches
  • neck pain

Chronic facial pain is more common than you think.

Opening and closing the mouth is made possible by two joints and several jaw muscles that work together when you chew, speak or swallow.  They include:

  • muscles and ligaments,
  • the jaw bone
  • the mandible (lower jaw)
  • two joints called the temporomandibular joints or “TMJ”

The TMJ are located on each side of the head, and are among the most complex of joints in the body.  Working together they make many different movements, including the rotating and gliding actions of chewing and speaking.

To open and close the mouth, several muscles control the lower jaw (mandible) as it moves forward, backward, and side-to-side. The TM joints are engaged in these movements.

Each TMJ has a disc between the ball and socket (see diagram) which cushions the load while enabling the jaw to open widely and rotate or glide.

Anything preventing this complex system of muscles, ligaments, discs and bones from working properly may result in a painful TMJ disorder.


Your dentist can perform an examination and take appropriate x-rays to help identify the source of the pain, which often arises from:

  • a sinus problem,
  • a toothache
  • an early stage of periodontal disease

And in some not so easily diagnosed, the pain may be related to

  • the facial muscles,
  • the jaw
  • the TM joint

TMJ problems can arise from arthritis, dislocation or injury to the jaw, head or neck, all which can cause pain and dysfunction. 

Other factors such as stress and teeth grinding, relate to the way the upper and lower teeth fit together (the bite) and may cause some types of TMJ disorders.

Muscles that move the joints are also subject to injury and disease.


The dental examination includes checking the joints and muscles for

  • tenderness,
  • clicking,
  • popping
  • difficulty moving.

It’s important to keep your dental office records up-to-date because your medical history may be reviewed as part of the diagnosis.

Your dentist may take x-rays, (including specialized x-rays for the TM joints), or make a “cast” of your teeth, both of which show how the upper and lower teeth fit together. Depending on the diagnosis, the dentist may also refer you to a physician or another dentist.


The treatments for TMJ disorders may include

  • stress-reducing exercises
  • wearing a mouth protector to prevent teeth grinding
  • orthodontic treatment
  • medication
  • surgery

The treatment may involve a number of steps beginning with the most conservative options, and in many cases, the treatment required to help reduce the pain is minor and relatively non-invasive.

Sagittal section of the articulation of the ma...

Sagittal section of the articulation of the mandible. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Articulation of the mandible. Lateral aspect.

Articulation of the mandible. Lateral aspect. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Enhanced by Zemanta