TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. This joint acts as a sliding hinge that connects your jaw to your skull.

While everybody has a temporomandibular joint, when somebody says that they have TMJ, they are generally referring to a disorder of that joint commonly referred to as “lockjaw.”

A disorder in the TMJ is often associated with pain or discomfort. It may be difficult for your doctor or dentist to identify the exact cause of your pain, but there are several potential culprits:

  • Arthritis

  • Genetics

  • Jaw injury

  • Teeth grinding or clenching

Fortunately, most cases of TMJ can be treated without invasive procedures or operations and is often temporary.


While TMJ is associated with several symptoms, patients may experience just a few as no case is typical.

  • Jaw pain or tenderness

  • Pain in one or both temporomandibular joints

  • Aching facial pain

  • Locking of the joint that makes it difficult to open or
    close your mouth

  • Aching pain near the ear

  • Difficulty chewing

  • Popping or grating when chewing or moving your jaw

When You Need a Dentist

While TMJ is generally temporary and there are many possible solutions, you should consider seeing your dentist if your pain is persistent or if you are unable to open or close your jaw completely. Your dentist will be knowledgable about the potential causes and possible treatments of TMJ and will help to guide you on the right path to relief.

TMJ Causes

Your temporomandibular joint is a sliding hinge between your jaw and skull. In the middle of that joint is a small disk that helps to absorb shocks to the jaw.
TMJ can develop into a disorder if:

  • The disk is damaged or deteriorates

  • The disk moves out of alignment

  • The joint is damaged by injury or arthritis

While these causes are fairly straightforward, there are several other options that will need to be explored by a medical professional in order to ensure that you receive the appropriate care and treatment.

Risk Factors

Because there are many potential causes of TMJ, it can be important to identify if you are in a high-risk category. If you know that you are at a higher likelihood of developing TMJ, you may be able to take precautionary actions or know that you need to visit with a medical professional before the condition becomes serious. Some of the risk factors include:

  • Family history of arthritis

  • Traumatic injury to the jaw

  • Chronic teeth-grinding or clenching

  • Connective tissue disorders that may affect the
    temporomandibular joint


In many cases, TMJ will resolve without medication or treatment. For this reason, your care provider may opt to hold off on doing anything and monitor your condition. However, if waiting simply isn’t an option, there are several potential treatment options that your dentist may suggest.

  • Medications – There are several different medications that may be prescribed to help with the treatment of TMJ. These include pain relievers or anti-inflammatories, tricyclic antidepressants, and muscle relaxants. Pain relievers and anti-inflammatories are used to help reduce the amount of discomfort you are feeling and reduce any swelling that is associated with TMJ. Tricyclic antidepressants have been effective at treating pain, not just depression and are sometimes an option that medical professionals will utilize for pain management. Muscle relaxants allow tensed muscles to relax as well as help relieve any pain. This relaxation may help if the disk for the temporomandibular joint is out of place.

  • Therapies – Your dentist may suggest the placement of a splint that can help brace the joint. In combination with splinting therapies, physical therapy can help to strengthen and train the muscles to keep the joint in place and relieve your pain. Finally, counseling may be prescribed to help reduce habits like teeth clenching that lead to TMJ.

  • If medications or other treatment don’t resolve your TMJ, your dentist may suggest surgery. Be sure to consult with your medical professional to make sure that you understand all your options and the risks of each.


If you are experiencing persistent or excessive jaw pain, schedule an appointment with your dentist today and ask if you may have TMJ. Your dentist understands the symptoms and treatments for TMJ and will help to get you feeling better as soon as possible.

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