Temporomandibular Joint Disorder
U.S. prevalence: 10 million people; 3% of the population
Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) is chronic jaw pain from the temporomandibular joint or surrounding muscles. The temporomandibular joint connects your lower jaw to your skull.
TMJ is the name of the joint but is often used as the name of the condition, which is alternatively called TMD, for temporomandibular disorder.
Symptoms of TMJ include:
- Radiating pain in the jaw, face, or neck
- Jaw stiffness
- Impaired range of motion in the jaw
- Painful popping or clicking with jaw movement
- Change in bite alignment
TMJ is believed to be caused, in some cases, by trauma to the jaw. However, the cause of most cases is never known. The condition is more common in women, so researchers are investigating a possible connection with female hormones.
TMJ may also be linked to:
- Teeth grinding (bruxism)
- Anxiety, stress, or depression
- Structural abnormalities in the jaw
TMJ is diagnosed based on symptoms, including severity, location, and quality of the pain. Your doctor may ask questions or order tests to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms, including dental problems, migraine, and trigeminal neuralgia.
Your doctor may also assess the range of motion in your jaw and check surrounding muscles for tenderness. In some cases, they may order imaging tests.
TMJ treatment usually starts conservatively and progresses if symptoms aren’t alleviated. The first step is self-care, including:
- Resting your jaw
- Eating soft foods
- Applying heat to the jaw
- Stretching exercises
- Relaxation techniques
- Avoiding triggering behaviors such as jaw clenching or chewing gum
Your doctor may recommend massage therapy, physical therapy, or a dental device to help you stop clenching or grinding, especially while you sleep.
The next step is medication, which ranges from over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, naproxen) to prescription muscle relaxants and tricyclic antidepressants, which are commonly prescribed for several pain conditions.
Severe TMJ that doesn’t respond well to these treatments may require surgery, but this is rare and controversial.