TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder)

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Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) 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 your lower jaw (mandible) to your skull. TMJ may affect your jaw joint or the muscles surrounding it. 

Causes of Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

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

  • Injury to the jaw or face
  • Excess jaw muscle tension
  • Misalignment between the upper and lower teeth
  • Issues in the movement of the jaw joint
  • Change in or abnormal position of the jaw joint or cartilage disc inside the jaw joint
  • Arthritis or similar inflammation in the joint
  • Excess or limited motion of the joint

Risk Factors of Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

TMJ is more common in women 30-50 years of age. Your chances of having TMJ are also increased by:

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

TMJ 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
  • Feeling as if your jaw catches or locks briefly while attempting to open or close your 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 at UVA

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 TMJ symptoms by:

  • Resting your jaw by eating a diet of soft foods
  • 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 your 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.


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.