TMJ

Frequently Asked Questions

What is "TMJ"?
"TMJ" stands for TemporoMandibular Joint, or the jaw joint. You have two TMJs, one in front of each ear, connecting the lower jaw bone (the mandible) to the skull. The joints allow movement up and down, side to side, and forward and back—all the mobility necessary for biting, chewing and swallowing food, for speaking and for making facial expressions.

TMJ Diseases/Disorders:
Temporomandibular joint diseases and disorders, commonly called TMJ, are a collection of conditions characterized by pain in the jaw and surrounding tissues and limitations in jaw movements. Injury and conditions that routinely affect other joints in the body, such as Arthritis, also affect the temporomandibular joint.

Who is Affected by TMJ Diseases/Disorders?
The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that over 10 million people in the United States suffer from TMJ problems at any given time. While both men and women experience TMJ problems, the majority of those seeking treatment are women in their childbearing years.

What are the causes?
Not all causes are known. Some possible causes or contributing factors are injuries to the jaw area, various forms of Arthritis, dental procedures, genetics, hormones, low-level infections, auto-immune diseases, stretching of the jaw as occurs with inserting a breathing tube before surgery, and clenching or grinding of the teeth.

How is TMJ diagnosed?
Diagnosing TMJ diseases and disorders can be difficult and confusing. For example, facial pain can be a symptom of many conditions, such as sinus or ear infections, decayed or abscessed teeth, various types of headache, and facial neuralgia (nerve-related facial pain).
At present, there is no widely accepted, standard test to correctly identify all TMJ conditions. In most cases, however, a complete evaluation, including a detailed medical history, the patient’s description of symptoms, and physical examination of the head, neck, face and jaw provide information useful for making a diagnosis.

Progression of TMJ Diseases and Disorders:
Some TMJ problems improve on their own, without treatment, within weeks or months with simple home therapy. For others, symptoms worsen over time and develop into long-term, persistent and debilitating pain. Most people with TMJ problems have relatively mild or periodic symptoms.

What are the symptoms of TMJ?
Pain is the most common symptom. TMJ pain is often described as a dull aching pain in the jaw joint and nearby areas, including the ear, which comes and goes. Some people, however, report no pain, but still have problems using their jaws. Other symptoms can include:

  • Being unable to open the mouth comfortably
  • Clicking, popping or grating sounds in the jaw joint
  • Locking of the jaw when attempting to open the mouth
  • Headaches
  • A bite that feels uncomfortable or “off”
  • Neck, shoulder and back pain
  • Swelling on the side of the face

Additional symptoms may include: ringing in the ears, ear pain, decreased hearing, dizziness and vision problems. Keep in mind that occasional discomfort in the jaw joint or chewing muscles is common, and is not always a cause for concern. Many people with certain TMJ problems get better without treatment. Often the problem goes away on its own in several weeks to months. However, if the pain is severe and lasts more than a few weeks, see your healthcare provider.

What is the treatment?
Because most common jaw joint and muscle problems are temporary, lasting only weeks or months, simple care is all that is usually needed to relieve the discomfort. Self-care practices, for example, eating soft foods, applying ice or moist heat, and avoiding extreme jaw movements (such as wide yawning, loud singing, and gum chewing) are useful in easing symptoms.