Top of the page
Temporomandibular disorders (TMDs) is the name given to several problems with jaw movement and pain in and around the jaw joints. They cause pain when you talk, chew, swallow, or yawn.
You may also hear TMDs called TMJ or TM problems.
The jaw joints, or temporomandibular (TM) joints, connect the lower jawbone (mandible) to the skull. These flexible joints are used more than any other joint in the body. They allow the jaw to open and close for talking, chewing, swallowing, yawning, and other movements.
TMDs are caused by muscle tension, often triggered by stress. Clenching or grinding your teeth can tire the jaw muscles, leading to muscle spasms, tissue damage, pain, and sore muscles. A TMD can also start with an injury to the jaw joint or a joint disease like osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.
TMDs can affect the jaw and jaw joint as well as muscles in the face, shoulder, head, and neck. Common symptoms include joint pain, muscle pain, headaches, joint sounds, trouble with fully opening the mouth, and jaw locking.
There is no one way to diagnose a TMD. Your doctor can check your condition with a physical examination and by asking questions about your health. In some cases, an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI is also used to check for bone or soft tissue problems related to symptoms of a TMD.
The focus of TMD treatment is to ease pain in the jaw joint and restore normal jaw movement. Initial treatment involves over-the-counter pain medicine and self-care at home. Splints can help reduce teeth grinding and clenching. Your doctor may suggest other treatments as well. Surgery isn't usually done to treat TMDs.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
To prevent temporomandibular disorders (TMDs), try to reduce muscle tension in your jaw. Here are some ways you can reduce muscle tension.
If you have a lot of stress and anxiety in your life, try relaxation techniques.
Avoid constantly chewing gum, biting your nails, or resting your chin on your hand.
Poor posture may disturb the natural alignment of your facial bones and muscles, causing pain.
In the past, various procedures such as dental restoration and orthodontic treatment were used to prevent joint sounds from developing into TMDs. Such measures are not only unneeded but also potentially damaging to a joint that may never become painful on its own.
TMDs can affect the jaw and jaw joint as well as muscles in the face, shoulder, head, and neck. Common symptoms include joint pain when you move your jaw. You may have pain when you open your mouth widely, chew, or yawn. Other symptoms include muscle pain, headaches, joint sounds like clicking and popping, trouble with fully opening the mouth, and jaw locking. Sometimes pain around the ear, with pressure or ringing in the ears (tinnitus), develops with TMDs.
In most cases, symptoms of a TMD are mild and don't last long. They tend to come and go without getting worse and usually go away without a doctor's care.
Some people who have a TMD develop long-lasting (chronic) symptoms. Chronic pain or trouble moving the jaw may affect talking, eating, and swallowing. This may affect a person's overall sense of well-being.
The course of TMDs caused by muscle tension varies depending on the reason for the tension.
TMDs caused by problems in the structure of the jaw joint may:
In some cases, TMDs can be extremely painful and last a long time. In these cases, it's important to seek treatment.
There is no one way to diagnose a TMD. Your doctor can check your condition with a physical examination and by asking questions about your past health.
If you have sudden pain after a facial or jaw injury, your doctor may also order some type of imaging test. This may be an X-ray, a CT scan, or an MRI.
Regardless of cause, if you still have symptoms after the first period of treatment, your doctor may look for problems in the jaw joint structure. Tests may include:
This test can confirm whether the bones are worn away, broken, or disfigured.
This test can show soft tissues (ligaments, muscles, and articular disc) that may be involved with disc displacement or damage.
The focus of treatment of TMDs is to ease pain in the jaw joint and restore normal jaw movement. Over-the-counter pain medicine and self-care that you can do at home work well. Using techniques to relax your muscles and manage stress can also help.
Dental splints are a common treatment for TMDs. Splints are usually pieces of plastic that fit between the upper and lower teeth. They help reduce grinding and clenching.
Your doctor may suggest physiotherapy if your symptoms are related to muscle tension. This treatment can help you stretch and release tight muscles and scar tissue.
Your doctor may prescribe medicines. These may include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), muscle relaxants, or tricyclic antidepressants. In some cases, a doctor may inject numbing medicine into the spot that hurts.
Most people don't need permanent dental work or surgery. But surgery may be used if you have severe structural problems in your jaw joint.
Current as of: November 14, 2022
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Adam Husney MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: November 14, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2023 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.