What is TMJ? – A Look At Jaw Problems

This guide will help answer the question “What is TMJ” by introducing the problem and summarizing the common causes and symptoms.

The guide leads on to how you can get relief from jaw pain.


“What is TMJ Disorder?”

The letters TMJ are short for ‘temporomandibular joint’, the joint which connects your lower jaw to your skull. This can be felt just in front of the ear. Although technically TMJ refers only to the joint, the term is sometimes used as short for disorders of the area.

Problems are better known as TMJD (short for temporomandibular joint disorders) or TMD . This umbrella term includes problems with the jaw muscles, bones and related nerves.

"Woman holding her temples with TMJ pain"

TMJ dysfunction can cause facial pain and lead to headaches and migraines.

Symptoms of TMJ

Any problems with the TMJ will affect how your jaw works. Symptoms will include pain when eating, talking, yawning and even pain when the mouth is at rest. The pain can be very severe. As many as one in four people can have TMJD symptoms, with women more likely to have problems, perhaps in part due to hormonal changes.

Any of the following may be experienced as symptoms:

  • Pain in the jaw, on one side or both, is the most common symptom. As well as pain in the jaw and facial area, one may experience symptoms of neck and shoulder pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • TMJ pain may arise with movements like talking or yawning
  • Jaw clicking or a popping sound when you open/close your mouth. This may be loud enough for others to hear. One may also feel a grating sensation on movement
  • Swelling of the face and mouth
  • An over-stretched sensation of the joint
  • Difficulty when trying to open fully or on closing, or the jaw may shift to one side when opening. The joint may even feel stuck (‘Lock Jaw’) on opening/closing
  • You may experience trouble while swallowing
  • Ear pain, tinnitus or ringing/buzzing in the ears, or even hearing loss in severe cases
  • There could be nausea, headache or dizziness. Migraines or pain behind the eyes are also possible
  • There may be a shifting in the position of the teeth, or a change in the bite. One may get toothache; the teeth may feel tender to bite on, sensitive to heat/cold or ache for prolonged periods. A change in the bite may also exacerbate pre-existing conditions like loose teeth and receding gums.


TMJ Causes And Risk Factors

The causes of TMD are not fully understood and in some cases none can be found. Specific causative factors can include:

  • Trauma to the jaw, such as a physical injury to the face or chronic teeth grinding or clenching (bruxism)
  • Stress, tension and anxiety
  • Problems with the alignment of the dentition (‘occlusal; problems) or missing teeth
  • Ill-fitting dental treatments such as crowns, bridges or dentures
  • Local stress, damage or disease to the bone, cartilage, liagaments or muscles that make up the joint
  • Arthritis of the joint. Fibromyalgia is another risk factor.
  • Tumors around the joint area.


Diagnosis of TMJD

Your dentist will take full history of your symptoms, including when they arise and any factors that make them worse.Close-up of woman with open mouth being daignosed

During the visit the dentist will:

  • Look at and feel how your jaw moves
  • Feel the joint and attached muscles for tension and tenderness
  • Examine your mouth for signs of clenching or grinding (bruxism).

X-rays of the area and models of the teeth may be necessary.  MRI and CT scans are also becoming commoner to help diagnose structural problems.



You have now some idea on the answer to “What is TMJ”.  We’ve also given you a summary of what symptoms you may encounter, if you suffer with these problems.

Next we will help you with TMJ relief and guidance on treatment strategies (including a look at mouth guards, surgery and other options). TMJ exercises are also known to help greatly, and we discuss these here.


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