Millions of American adults suffer from chronic facial pain, such as jaw pain, headaches or earaches. The source of these aches and pains may be related to one or both of the temporomandibular joints. Located on each side of the head, these joints work together, with a complex system of muscles, ligaments, discs and bones, to make different movements for chewing and speaking.
Temporomandibular disorder, also known as TMJ, refers to a variety of conditions that affect temporomandibular joints, jaw muscles and facial nerves. TMJ may occur when the jaw twists during opening, closing or side-motion movements. If you have TMJ, you may experience these symptoms:
TMJ affects more than twice as many women as men and is the most common non-dental related chronic facial pain.
Among the most common causes of TMJ are:
Stress is thought to be a factor in TMJ. Even strenuous physical tasks, such as lifting a heavy object or stressful situations, can aggravate TMJ by causing overuse of jaw muscles, specifically clenching or grinding teeth (also known as bruxism).
Diagnosis is an important step before treatment. At present, there is no widely accepted, standard test to correctly identify TMJ. Other dental conditions, such as a toothache or sinus problems, can cause similar symptoms. Behavioral, psychological and physical factors may also combine to cause TMJ.
In about 90% of cases, your description of symptoms, combined with a simple physical examination of face and jaw by your dentist, provides useful information for diagnosing these disorders.
Your dentist may also take x-rays and make a cast of your teeth to see how your bite fits together, or request specialized x-rays of the temporomandibular joints. Your dentist may need to review your complete medical history, so always keep your dental office record up to date.
Keep in mind that for most people, discomfort from TMJ will eventually go away on its own. Simple self-care practices, such as exercising to reduce teeth-clenching caused by stress, can be effective in easing TMJ symptoms.
You can visit your dentist for conservative TMJ treatment, such as pain relievers and anti-inflammatories, oral splints and mouthguards, or corticosteroid injections.
Surgical procedures, such as open-joint surgery, are also an option if other treatments are ineffective. Note that these procedures involve more risks than other procedures do. Discuss the possible risks with your dentist and consider them carefully.
Along with your dentist, pain clinics in hospitals and universities can also provide you with treatment advice and provide second opinions.
Last updated February 3, 2022
The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.