The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint that connects your mandible (lower jaw) to your skull. The joint can be found on both sides of your head in front of your ears. It allows your jaw to open and close, letting you to speak and eat.
The abbreviation “TMJ” has also been used to refer to a group of health conditions related to your jaw. However, this is becoming
These disorders can cause:
- tenderness at the joint
- facial pain
- difficulty moving the joint
According to the
These disorders are treatable, but they have many different possible causes. This can make diagnosis difficult.
Keep reading to learn more about TMJ disorders. You should discuss any concerns with your doctor.
The symptoms of TMJ disorders depend on the severity and cause of your condition. The most common symptom of TMJ disorders is pain in the jaw and surrounding muscles.
- pain that can be felt in the face or neck
- stiffness in the muscles of the jaw
- limited movement of the jaw
- locking of the jaw
- clicking or popping sound from the TMJ site
- dental issues, such as the wearing down of teeth
- tinnitus (ringing in the ear)
- shift in the jaw, changing the way that the upper and lower teeth align (called malocclusion)
Symptoms may show up on just one side of the face or both.
Because TMJ disorders can have a variety of causes, there are also a variety of ways to treat them.
Physicians will typically advise starting with home treatments first. This is because many of the more complicated treatments
In a lot of cases, the symptoms of TMJ disorders can be treated with self-care practices at home. To ease the symptoms of TMJ at home, you can:
- Eat soft foods.
- Use ice to reduce swelling.
- Reduce jaw movements.
- Avoid chewing gum and tough foods (like beef jerky).
- Take measures to reduce stress.
- Use jaw-stretching exercises to help improve jaw movement.
If you find that your TMJ is not eased by using home treatments, some medications — both over-the-counter and prescribed by a doctor — may provide more relief.
Some of these medications include:
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- muscle relaxers
- local anesthetics
Your doctor will help you decide which medication is best for you, based on your personal condition and health history.
Occasionally, your doctor may recommend physical therapy. Depending on the area that needs attention, your therapy could include:
- heat therapy
- cooling therapy
- tissue mobilization
- resistance exercises
If you and your doctor believe your TMJ disorder may be caused by stress, talk therapy or stress management exercises are additional options.
Surgery or other procedures
If your symptoms don’t improve with the methods listed above, your doctor may decide that your condition requires serious treatment.
Botox injections are one such treatment. Typically, these injections are done for painful trigger points or chronic teeth grinding. The evidence behind this treatment is
In very rare cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to treat your condition. Procedures can include:
- corrective dental treatment to improve your bite and align your teeth
- arthrocentesis, which removes fluid and debris from the joint
- surgery to replace the joint
Procedures used to treat this condition may, in some cases, make your symptoms worse. Talk with your doctor about the potential risks of these procedures.
In many cases, it’s not known what causes TMJ disorders. Trauma to the jaw or joint may play a role. There are also other health conditions that may contribute to the development of TMJ disorders.
- erosion (wearing away) of the joint
- habitual grinding or clenching of the teeth
- structural jaw issues present at birth
- growth disorders
While there are some factors that are often associated with the development of TMJ disorders, they haven’t been proven to be a direct cause.
Some of these include:
- female hormones (it’s theorized that estrogen may play a role in the development of TMJ)
- poor posture that strains the muscles of the neck and face
- prolonged stress
- joint hypermobility
TMJ disorders can be difficult to diagnose. There are no standard tests to diagnose most of the disorders that fall under that title. A doctor may refer you to a dentist, or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist to diagnose your condition.
A healthcare professional may examine your to see if there is swelling or tenderness. They may also use several different imaging tests.
These can include:
- X-rays. X-rays of the jaw and teeth usually involve you biting down on a small mouthpiece as your dentist moves an imaging machine around your head. These X-rays will allow your dentist to see the bones in and around your jaw, as well as your teeth placement.
- CT scan. A CT scan of the jaw allows your doctor to see the bones and joint tissues in a more advanced way than a regular X-ray.
- MRI. An MRI of the jaw will reveal if there are problems with the structure of the jaw. An MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging scan, uses a magnetic field to show detailed images of organs and tissues.
You may not be able to prevent TMJ disorder from developing, but you might be able to reduce symptoms by lowering your stress levels, employing physical therapy and exercises, and working with a dentist or doctor if you often grind your teeth at night.
Possible solutions for teeth grinding include wearing a mouth guard at night and occasionally taking muscle relaxants.
Can TMJ disorder be cured?
TMJ can be caused by a variety of issues, such as trauma to the jaw or persistent stress, so curing the symptoms is directly connected to curing, or easing, the condition that caused them.
However, many individuals find that their TMJ symptoms improve or even go away on their own within weeks or months if home remedies are employed.
Are TMJ disorders serious?
While many people find their TMJ symptoms go away on their own after addressing the root cause, other individuals may deal with more serious symptoms that can affect their quality of life.
Even when someone is dealing with a more serious case of TMJ disorder, it’s recommended to avoid aggressive treatments such as surgery whenever possible, because there is still not enough evidence to show that these irreversible methods work.
There are a wide variety of treatments available for TMJ disorders. If one doesn’t work for you right away, work with your doctor to find one that does.
What will happen if TMJ disorder is not treated?
TMJ isn’t life threatening, but if it’s not treated, it can cause pretty persistent discomfort and tension in and around your jaw. It’s also possible that the affected joints could become inflamed, and there may even be damage to your teeth.
You don’t have to deal with the pain and discomfort of TMJ alone. Talk with your doctor or dentist about your symptoms.
The outlook for TMJ disorders depends on the cause of the condition. TMJ disorders can be successfully treated in many people with at-home remedies, such as changing posture or reducing stress.
If your condition is caused by a chronic (long-term) disease such as arthritis, lifestyle changes may not be enough. Arthritis can wear down the joint over time and increase pain. There are, however, many treatments to help with the symptoms of arthritis itself.
Most cases of TMJ disorder warrant changes in lifestyle habits, possibly combined with medications to ease pain and discomfort. Aggressive treatments are rarely needed.
Talk with your doctor about your options to determine what treatment is right for you.