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Quick Facts

Temporomandibular Disorders

By The Manual's Editorial Staff,

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What are temporomandibular disorders?

Temporomandibular disorders are problems with the joints, ligaments, tendons, or muscles connecting part of your skull (the temporal bone) to your lower jaw bone (mandible). These used to be called TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders.

The temporomandibular joint connects your skull to your lower jaw bone. This joint moves in many ways. It opens and closes and slides backward, forward, and side to side. Chewing creates a large amount of pressure on this joint. A piece of cartilage, called a disk, keeps the skull and the lower jawbone from rubbing against each other.

  • If you have a temporomandibular disorder, you may get headaches, feel soreness when you chew, or hear clicking when you move your jaw

  • Doctors or dentists usually find a temporomandibular disorder when examining you

  • Women in their early 20s and women between 40 and 50 are affected more often

  • Treatment usually involves a mouth guard and pain relief medicine

The Temporomandibular Joint

What causes temporomandibular disorders?

Temporomandibular disorders are caused by:

  • Tense muscles

  • Physical problems with the joint

Stress or anxiety sometimes makes the problem worse.

Muscle tension in the jaw can be caused by:

  • Clenching and grinding teeth (bruxism)

  • Emotional stress or sleep disorders

  • Missing teeth or teeth that aren’t lined up evenly (malocclusion)

Joint problems in the jaw can be caused by:

What are the symptoms of temporomandibular disorders?

Symptoms of temporomandibular disorders can include:

  • Headaches

  • Soreness in your jaw muscles when you chew food

  • Clicking or locking of your jaw

  • Pain near the joint

  • Pain or stiffness in your neck spreading to your arms

  • Dizziness

  • Earaches or stuffiness in your ears

  • Problems sleeping

  • Difficulty opening your mouth wide

How can doctors tell if I have temporomandibular disorder?

Your doctor or dentist can usually find a temporomandibular disorder by asking about your medical history and doing a physical exam. Sometimes, doctors will:

  • Do imaging tests, such as MRI, x-rays, or CT scan

  • Take fluid from the joint to test for infection in the joint

  • Do a sleep test (polysomnography)

How do doctors treat temporomandibular disorders?

Doctors will have you use:

  • A mouth guard

  • Pain medicine, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Doctors will treat the cause of your temporomandibular disorder. Treatments may include:

  • Physical therapy and jaw exercises

  • Muscle-relaxing medicines

  • A device to help reposition the jaw

  • Surgery

  • Arthritis medicines

  • Warm compresses

Most people feel better within about 3 months. Many people recover without treatment within 2 to 3 years.

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