About the ‘TMJ’

You may have heard of the ‘TMJ’ before or you may hear of it when you visit your dentist.  What is it and why does it concern you?

The ‘TMJ’ is the ‘Temporo-Mandibular Joint’.  This is the joint where your lower jaw (mandible) meets the temporal bone of the skull (in-front, near your ears).
This joint is incredibly flexible and durable allowing you to smoothly chew, talk, yawn, and bite!

So what is ‘TMD’?

When your TMJ joint has any problems, it is called a Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD).  Usually associated with any disorders with the associated muscles, chewing, opening, moving the jaw or jaw joints.

Causes of TMD’s can vary but usually are a result of problems with the muslces or joints themselves.

Occasionally injuries to the jaw, the joint, facial muscles or the neck can cause TMD’s.  There are a few other causes such as:

  • Grinding or clenching the teeth, which puts a lot of pressure on the TMJ
  • Dislocation of the soft cushion or disc between the ball and socket
  • Presence of osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in the TMJ
  • Stress, which can cause a person to tighten facial and jaw muscles or clench the teeth


What Are the Symptoms of TMD?

Women usually experience TMDs more than Men, and problems are most common in people between the ages of 20 and 40.
Pain and symptoms can vary both in type and severity.

Common symptoms of TMD include:

  • Pain or tenderness in the face, jaw joint area, neck and shoulders, and in or around the ear when you chew, speak, or open your mouth wide
  • Limited ability to open the mouth very wide
  • Jaws that get “stuck” or “lock” in the open- or closed-mouth position.  Also known as ‘lock jaw’
  • Clicking, popping, or grating sounds in the jaw joint when opening or closing the mouth (which may or may not be accompanied by pain) or chewing
  • A tired feeling in the face
  • Difficulty chewing or a sudden uncomfortable bite – as if the upper and lower teeth are not fitting together properly
  • Swelling on the side of the face
  • May occur on one or both sides of the face
  • Other common symptoms of TMD include toothaches, headaches, neck aches, dizziness, earaches, hearing problems, upper shoulder pain, and ringing in the ears (tinnitis).


How are TMDs Diagnosed?

Because many other conditions can cause similar symptoms to TMD – including toothaches, sinus problems, arthritis, or gum disease – your dentist will conduct a careful patient history and physical examination to determine the cause of your symptoms.

Your dentist will examine and massage your Temporomandibular Joint to look for pain or tenderness; listen for clicking, popping, or grating sounds during jaw movement; look for limited motion or locking of the jaw while opening or closing the mouth; and examine bite and facial muscle function.

Sometimes panoramic X-rays will be taken. These full face X-rays allow your dentist to view the entire jaw, TMJ and teeth to make sure other problems aren’t causing the symptoms.

Sometimes, other imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a computer tomography (CT), are needed. The MRI views the soft tissue such as the TMJ disc to see if it is in the proper position as the jaw moves. A CT scan helps view the bony detail of the joint.

Your dentist may decide to send you to an oral surgeon (also called an oral and maxillofacial surgeon) for further care and treatment. This oral health care professional specializes in surgical procedures in and about the entire face, mouth, and jaw area.


TMJ disorders are not uncommon, and they can be managed.  If you have noticed problems with your joints or are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms then mention it to us at your next appointment.