TMJ Disorders: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

Temporomandibular disorders, commonly known as TMJ disorders, refer to the problems affecting the joint connecting the jawbone to the skull. Every individual has a TMJ on either side of the face; any disorder afflicting this joint can lead to pain and cause problems during movement of the jaw.


TMJ disorders may not necessarily be limited to the joint; injury and inflammation of the muscles and nerves of the joint may also be responsible for the development of TMJ disorders.

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Symptoms of TMJ 


  • Tenderness in the region of the jaw.
  • Stiffness in the muscles of the jaw and neck.
  • Pain in or around the ear, or behind the eyes that spreads to the face, neck, and shoulders.
  • Pain during movement of the jaw; such as during eating, talking, or opening your mouth wide.
  • Clicking or popping sounds during the opening or closing of the mouth.
  • Soreness of the jaw muscles.
  • Locking of the jaw during mouth opening.
  • Teeth sensitivity that cannot be linked to any oral health problem.
  • Changes in the bite.
  • Teeth grinding or clenching.
  • Headaches, dizziness, vertigo, and blurred vision.


Causes of TMJ Disorders


The actual cause of TMJ disorders remains unclear. However, there are a few factors that may contribute to the development of these disorders, such as –


  • A small disk present in the joint connecting the jaw to the skull acts as a shock absorber and keeps the movement of the joint smooth. Erosion of the disk or problems with the disk’s alignment can cause pain in the joint.
  • Injury to the face that affects the jaw or the TMJ in any way.
  • Bad posture and excessive stress and anxiety can contribute to the development of TMJ disorders.
  • Any type of strain on the joint or the muscles attached to the joint can cause pain while eating or talking. Clenching or grinding habits, also known as bruxism, can be a major cause for a strain on the TMJ.
  • Health conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other inflammatory diseases are also associated with TMJ disorders.
  • Some people have a genetic predisposition to developing stress responses. Such people may be more susceptible to TMJ disorders.


Diagnosis of TMJ Disorders


There are no specific tests that point towards a TMJ disorder. If your doctor suspects that you are suffering from a TMJ disorder, they may perform the following examination to make a definitive diagnosis –


General Health Examination

Your doctor will perform a general health examination on you. You will be asked a series of questions relevant to your medical and pain history. Occasionally, dental problems like tooth decay and gum disease or medical problems like arthritis and sinus issues can mimic TMJ disorders. Trigeminal neuralgia, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, pain because of braces, etc. may also be mistaken for TMJ disorders. Other conditions that may be responsible for your symptoms need to be ruled out before a diagnosis for a TMJ disorder can be made.


Physical Examination

A physical examination of your jaw and face will be done by your dentist. This includes examining the movement of your jaw while asking you to open and close your mouth, whether you have pain while moving your jaw, and checking for sounds that may occur upon movement of your jaw. Your doctor may also apply pressure on different regions around your jaw to identify painful spots.


Imaging Tests

Visual diagnostic tests can help your doctor make a clearer diagnosis. These include X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs. Dental X-rays help visualize the teeth and the jaws, CT scans are used to examine the bones of the TMJ, and MRI helps reveal any issues with the TMJ disk and the soft tissues around it.


TMJ arthroscopy is another way to diagnose TMJ disorders. A thin tube is inserted into the joint space along with a small camera. This allows the doctor to visualize the joint space and make a diagnosis.


Treatment for TMJ Disorders


Mild symptoms of TMJ disorders can benefit greatly from home remedies. Chronic disorders may need professional and occasionally even surgical intervention.


Home Remedies

  • Application of ice packs around the jaw region to relieve pain.
  • Eating soft foods to reduce strain on the jaw.
  • Using over-the-counter pain relief medication.
  • Doctor-recommended exercises for the jaw, which help strengthen the jaw muscles, and increase flexibility and range of motion of the jaw.
  • Relaxation techniques that help you with better stress management.


Professional Remedies

  • Medication – Apart from pain relievers, your doctor might recommend other types of medication for TMJ disorders. These are TCAs (tricyclic antidepressants) that help with bruxism, stress, and pain, and muscle relaxants that help prevent muscle spasms, which can worsen TMJ disorders.
  • Use of a dental splint or mouth-guard that aligns the teeth and the jaw. It is also helpful in patients who may have TMJ disorders due to teeth grinding or clenching habits.
  • Arthrocentesis – A procedure in which small needles are inserted into the joint to irrigate it and remove debris and inflammatory products.
  • TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) – Low-level electrical current is applied to the jaw, which relaxes the joint and the muscles around it to provide pain relief.
  • Botox or steroid injections that can help relieve pain.
  • Radio-wave therapy to stimulate the joint, and low-level laser therapy to reduce pain and inflammation in the joint.
  • Surgical procedures – Arthroscopy may be used not just for diagnosing TMJ disorders but also for performing surgery on it. Small surgical instruments can be inserted into the joint along with the arthroscope to treat the joint space conservatively. Alternatively, if conservative options don’t work, your doctor might recommend an open-joint surgery to repair or even replace the joint. Since this surgery has many risks associated with it, it is considered as a possible treatment option only after much deliberation.


The treatment of TMJ disorders often requires the expertise of various specialists. Your doctor may refer you to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon or an ear-and-nose specialist before making a confirmatory diagnosis. Our staff at River’s Bend Dental are experts in diagnosing and treating TMJ disorders. Book an appointment with us today to know more about TMJ disorders.