Dental Health Topics

What is TMJ?

“TMJ” stands for “temporomandibular joint.” Connecting your jaw to your skull, this is the joint that helps you talk, yawn, chew, and even make silly faces.

Many people also use “TMJ” to refer to a pain or disorder connected with this joint. However, the more accurate name is temporomandibular disorder, or TMD.

What are the Symptoms of TMDs?

If your jaw clicks occasionally or even daily but doesn’t cause you any pain, then you don’t have TMD.

If, however, you have jaw pain or limited jaw movement, then you might have TMD. Other symptoms can include any of the following:

  • Headaches
  • Ear pain
  • Bite problems
  • Facial muscle fatigue
  • Severe pain
  • Swelling on the side of your face
  • A sudden inability to open or close your jaw

For some people with TMD, symptoms can come and go; for others, symptoms can be chronic and even debilitating at times.

What Causes TMD Symptoms?

The exact cause of TMD is not always clear — doctors and researchers are still learning about it.

But lots of things can contribute to it. A physical injury to your face, muscle tension, or degenerative joint disease, like arthritis, all can affect the feel and function of your jaw.

In many cases, doctors are unable to find the root cause.

How Do Doctors Treat TMDs?

So far, the research on treating TMDs is young and inconclusive. For that reason, most treatment is conservative and focuses pain management.

Many healthcare professionals recommend avoiding irreversible treatments, such as jaw replacement surgery, or other treatments involving needles or whirring tools, like nerve stimulation and radio wave therapy.

Instead, your doctor may recommend any of the following:

  • Acupuncture (to relax the facial muscles)
  • Short-term use of pain medication
  • Home remedies, such as using relaxation techniques, eating soft foods, or applying heat or cold packs
  • Short-term use of stabilization splits (similar to a mouth guard)

No matter what your doctor prescribes, make sure to ask why they recommend it, whether evidence supports it, and what the risks are — remember, the current research on treating TMDs is minimal.

Most Cases Resolve on Their Own

In most cases, your pain or discomfort will subside on its own.

Your doctor will help you rule out anything else that could be causing you pain, such as sinus infections or other chronic headaches. If you continue to experience unbearable pain or an inability to chew or talk normally, get it checked out.

For more information, we recommend this handy brochure from the National Institutes of Health.