The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects the jawbone to the skull. TMJ disorders often cause discomfort in the cheek, jaw, or ear areas and can affect normal jaw function.
Everyone has two temporomandibular joints on each side of the face to connect the skull and jawbone. Often referred to as TMJ, these joints act as sliding hinges whenever the mouth is opened or closed. When the TMJ function as they should, people rarely give them a second thought, but when they cause chronic pain, it’s called “TMJ disorder” or TMD.
TMJ disorder is often difficult to diagnose because it may manifest as symptoms like headaches and earaches. It’s also difficult to treat because TMD can have a number of causes that require different forms of treatment. It’s critical that you see a dentist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of TMJ disorder in order to find lasting relief.
Types of TMJ pain
TMJ conditions fall into three main categories:
- Myofascial pain – discomfort or pain in the muscles that control jaw function (grinding teeth can result in this type of TMJ disorder)
- Internal derangement of the joint – a possible indicator of a displaced disc, dislocated jaw, or injury to the condyle
- Arthritis – a degenerative inflammatory disorder
Signs and symptoms of TMJ disorders are frequently intensified by stress and can include:
- Soreness in the cheek or jaw area
- Pain in or around the ears
- Facial pain
- Tight jaws
- Popping or clicking sounds when opening mouth
- Locking of the jaw
- Difficulty chewing
Frequently asked questions about TMJ disorder
How do you fix TMJ?
There’s no one-size-fits-all treatment for TMJ pain. Finding the right treatment for you requires diagnosing the underlying cause of your TMD, as treating TMJ pain caused by teeth grinding will be different from treating pain caused by arthritis. The most common solutions we use include stabilization splints, Botox injections, anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy exercises. Self-care strategies like eating a diet of soft foods and alleviating inflammation with ice packs can also help during flare-ups.
Can TMJ go away on its own?
TMJ does sometimes go away on its own, particularly if it’s been brought on by a stressful life event or injury, but if pain is persistent, it’s important to seek treatment to prevent permanent damage to the joint.
How can I fix my TMJ without surgery?
Surgery is considered a last resort for the most extreme cases of TMJ disorder. If self-managed care hasn’t helped, stabilization splints, Botox injections, and anti-inflammatory medications are a less invasive option than surgery.
Do night guards really work?
Yes, if your TMJ pain is caused by teeth grinding and jaw clenching, a night guard or stabilization splint will relax your jaw muscles to reduce inflammation and pain.
Does stress make TMJ worse?
Stress and TMJ disorder are closely linked. For many patients, stress causes muscle tension and this muscle tension leads to nighttime jaw clenching and teeth grinding.