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TMJ Disorders – Causes and Symptoms

TMJ is an abbreviation for temporomandibular joint, which functions as a sliding hinge and connects the jawbone to the temporal bones of the skull. There is one such joint on each side of the jaw and enables the jaw to move up and down, as well side to side, thus, aiding activities such as chewing, talking and yawning. Problems with the jaw and the controlling muscles of the face are known as TMJ disorders.

The exact cause of TMJ disorder is not always known and could be due to multiple factors such as genes, arthritis, or a jaw injury. In many cases, people experiencing jaw pain also tend to clutch their teeth and make a grinding noise. The pain and discomfort caused due to TMJ disorders are usually short-lived and can be managed with some non-surgical treatment or care at home. However, in cases where all non-invasive measures fail to provide relief, surgery may be the last resort.

Causes of TMJ Disorders

As mentioned, the exact cause of TMJ disorder is not definitive; however, it could be caused due to a combination of factors such as:

  • Injury to the jaw
  • Injury to the joint or muscles of the neck or head
  • Arthritis
  • Grinding or clenching of teeth unknowingly during sleep
  • Auto-immune problems
  • Dental surgery after-effects
  • Infection
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Disk erosion, displacement or misalignment
  • Poor posture
  • Orthodontic braces
  • Excessive gum chewing

In many cases, hormonal or environmental factors can also trigger the pain in the jaw or muscles.

Risk Factors of TMJ Disorders

Factors such as below put one at more risk of developing a TMJ disorder than others:

  • People with arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis
  • Jaw injury
  • Genetic conditions
  • Long-term habit or impact due to the habit of grinding and clenching teeth
  • Connective tissue diseases which can hamper the temporomandibular joint
  • Jaw-stressing occupations such as violinists
  • Gender, women are more prone to the risk than men

Symptoms of TMJ Disorders

The main symptom of TMJ Disorder is the pain in the jaw joint. The joint located in front of the ear is the one which is majorly impacted by the pain; however, the excruciating pain can extend to the face, eye, forehead, ear, head or the neck. Some other symptoms of TMJ Disorder include:

  • Extreme pain in the joint area
  • Tenderness or discomfort in the joint area
  • The clicking of the jaw
  • Pain in the ear or cracking sounds in the ear
  • A sense of fullness and ringing or popping sound in the ear
  • Excruciating pain identical to a toothache
  • Blurred vision
  • Unexplained headache
  • Pain in the eyes and forehead
  • Stiffness and pain in the neck muscles
  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain that shifts to the mouth, face, cheek, etc.
  • Tingling or numbness in the jaw and connected areas
  • Pain in the tongue base
  • Pain, swelling or a lump in the temple area
  • A problem in talking, chewing or yawning
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Dislocation or locking of the joint, commonly known as lockjaw
  • Shoulder pain

Treatment of TMJ Disorders

There are multiple treatment options for patients experiencing TMJ Disorders. The type of treatment depends on the severity of symptoms.

Home care and lifestyle modifications

Foremost, lifestyle modifications and self-care at home can help to cure TMJ disorders and manage symptoms ranging from mild-to-moderate effectively.

Some treatment options include:

  • Reduced movement of the jaw and more rest to the muscles
  • Avoiding heavy chewing activities such as chewing gum, dry fruits, etc.
  • Preferring intake of soft or liquid food to minimise pain
  • Avoid clenching, grinding or stressing the jaw
  • Indulging in recommended jaw exercises such as stretching the jaw slightly, etc.
  • Massaging the affected areas around the jaw
  • Applying ice packs or moist heat on the painful or tender areas

Moreover, the doctor might suggest avoiding some activities and intake of a specific type of diet to reduce pain and manage symptoms of TMJ disorders.

Other treatment options

For TMJ disorders that are pre-existing such as tooth grinding or clenching during sleep, treatment may involve placing a mouth guard to prevent pain and ease symptoms. For cases, where the disorders are a result of degenerative diseases, such as osteoarthritis, injections of steroids may be administered to treat symptoms and reduce pain. In many patients, directed medications including pain killers, recommended by the medical practitioner can also help provide relief.


For patients who have not responded to non-invasive methods of treatment, surgery may be opted as the last resort. It is best in cases where the TMJ disorder has restricted movement or caused intense, unresponsive pain. However, surgery is the recommended choice of treatment when the problem is the actual joint and not the surrounding jaw, muscle or any other part. Surgery may involve replacing the joint or correcting the dislocated disk of the joint. However, treatment involving joint replacement is extremely rare.

Overall, TMJ disorders can cause serious pain and affect the mobility of the jaw, but the problem is mostly temporary and can be easily treated with a few self-care steps, lifestyle modifications or medications. In a very rare case, surgery is required.

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