TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint and Muscle Disorders)

Overview

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Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders, commonly called "TMJ," are a group of conditions that cause pain and dysfunction in the jaw joint and the muscles that control jaw movement. We don’t know for certain how many people have TMJ disorders, but some estimates suggest that over 10 million Americans are affected. The condition appears to be more common in women than men.

For most people, pain in the area of the jaw joint or muscles does not signal a serious problem. Generally, discomfort from these conditions is occasional and temporary, often occurring in cycles. The pain eventually goes away with little or no treatment. Some people, however, develop significant, long-term symptoms.

If you have questions about TMJ disorders, you are not alone. Researchers, too, are looking for answers to what causes these conditions and what the best treatments are. Until we have scientific evidence for safe and effective treatments, it’s important to avoid, when possible, procedures that can cause permanent changes in your bite or jaw. This booklet provides information you should know if you have been told by a dentist or physician that you have a TMJ disorder.

Symptoms

A variety of symptoms may be linked to TMJ disorders. Pain, particularly in the chewing muscles and/or jaw joint, is the most common symptom. Other likely symptoms include:

  • radiating pain in the face, jaw, or neck,
  • jaw muscle stiffness,
  • limited movement or locking of the jaw,
  • painful clicking, popping or grating in the jaw joint when opening or closing the mouth,
  • a change in the way the upper and lower teeth fit together.

Diagnosis

There is no widely accepted, standard test now available to correctly diagnose TMJ disorders. Because the exact causes and symptoms are not clear, identifying these disorders can be difficult and confusing. Currently, health care providers note the patient’s description of symptoms, take a detailed medical and dental history, and examine problem areas, including the head, neck, face, and jaw. Imaging studies may also be recommended.

You may want to consult your doctor to rule out other known causes of pain. Facial pain can be a symptom of many conditions, such as sinus or ear infections, various types of headaches, and facial neuralgias (nerve-related facial pain). Ruling out these problems first helps in identifying TMJ disorders.

Treatment

Because more studies are needed on the safety and effectiveness of most treatments for jaw joint and muscle disorders, experts strongly recommend using the most conservative, reversible treatments possible. Conservative treatments do not invade the tissues of the face, jaw, or joint, or involve surgery. Reversible treatments do not cause permanent changes in the structure or position of the jaw or teeth. Even when TMJ disorders have become persistent, most patients still do not need aggressive types of treatment.

Conservative treatments include:

•  Self-care practices, such as eating soft foods, applying ice packs, and avoiding extremem jaw movement.

•  Pain medications

•  Stabilization splints

Helpful Tips

•  Eat soft foods.

•  Apply ice packs/

•  Avoid extreme jaw movements (such as wide yawning, loud singing, and gum chewing),

•  Learn techniques for relaxing and reducing stress,

•  Practive gentle jaw stretching and relaxing exercises that may help increase jaw movement. Your health care

   provider or a physical therapist can recommend exercises if appropriate for your particular condition

Additional Resources

• OPPERA, Act II

• First Evidence-Based Diagnostic Criteria Published for Temporomandibular Disorders

• Study Evaluates Risk Factors for Chronic Temporomandibular Joint and Muscle Disorders

• Before the OPPERA

• Building Better Bone

Last Reviewed on
February 2018