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Home > Services > Dentistry > Dental Conditions > Temporomandibular Disorder

Temporomandibular Disorder

Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a painful condition in the joint that opens and closes the mouth. These small joints are located in front of each ear, and they attach the lower jaw (mandible) to the skull. This disorder may affect your jaw joint or the muscles surrounding it. 

Causes of TMD

The exact cause of TMD is often unclear. Possible causes include:

  • Injury of the jaw or face
  • Excess tension in the jaw muscles
  • Faulty alignment between the upper and lower teeth
  • Disturbed movement of the jaw joint
  • Displacement or abnormal position of the jaw joint or cartilage disc inside the jaw joint
  • Arthritis or similar inflammatory process in the joint
  • Excess or limited motion of the joint

Risk Factors

TMD is more common in women aged 30-50 years old. Other factors that increase your chance of TMD include:

  • Clenching or grinding of teeth
  • Poorly fitting dentures or crowns
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Stress
  • Arthritis

TMD Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain in the temporomandibular joint, jaw or face
  • Pain may be worse with chewing, yawning or opening the mouth
  • Clicking, popping or grating sounds with movement of the jaw
  • A sensation of the jaw catching or locking briefly, while attempting to open or close the mouth or while chewing
  • Difficulty opening the mouth completely
  • A bite that feels off, uncomfortable or as though it is frequently changing
  • Headache
  • Earache
  • Neck pain

Diagnosis & Treatment

Your dentist will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam.

Tests may include:

  • X-rays
  • Arthrography — jaw movements videotaped with X-rays taken after dye is injected into the joint
  • MRI scan
  • CT scan

Lifestyle Measures

You can try to alleviate your TMD symptoms by:

  • Resting the jaw with a soft diet
  • Restricting movement with smaller bites and avoiding wide yawning and gum chewing
  • Applying ice or heat packs for pain relief
  • Gentle jaw stretching and exercises
  • Learning stress management and relaxation techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy


The most commonly used medications include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Antidepressants

Some medication may be injected into the jaw such as:

  • Pain relievers, such as cortisone or lidocaine
  • Botulinum toxin (Botox) that may offer temporary relief if pain or clicking are major symptoms

Dental Procedures

Your dentist can make a splint or mouth guard to relax your jaw muscles. This prevents you from clenching and grinding your teeth. The guard is usually worn at night.

Your dentist may also need to correct any bite abnormalities.

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Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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