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What Is TMJ and Why Does It Hurt?

The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is located in front of your ears and used to open and close your mouth. When this joint develops problems that cause pain, stiffness, and noises, you may have a temporomandibular disorder or TMD.

When most people ask “What is TMJ?” they are usually referring to TMD or disorders of the jaw joint. As many as 12 million adult Americans experience pain or discomfort in this joint, which may indicate a TMJ disorder.1

Types of TMJ Disorders

There are several types of disorders that can cause jaw pain in the TMJ. Many people also hear a clicking, popping, or grating sound when they open or close their mouth. Typically, TMDs are one of three types:1

  • Disorders of the jaw joint, including disc problems
  • Disorders of the facial muscles, which are used for chewing
  • Problems with the TMJ that cause headaches

Many TMDs go away on their own after a short period of time, but for some people they become a chronic condition. They sometimes occur together with back pain, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and sleep disorders. Women are more than twice as likely to have TMDs than men.1

What Are The Causes of TMJ Disorders?

The causes of TMJ disorders are not clearly understood, but some factors may make it more likely that you will have pain or noise associated with jaw movement. These are:

  • Injuries to the joint, jaw muscles, head, or neck, which might be associated with whiplash
  • Arthritis in the jaw joint
  • Abnormal movement of the disc that cushions the ball and socket of the TMJ
  • Habitually grinding or clenching your teeth during sleep or when under stress

The Signs and Symptoms of TMD

If you are experiencing these symptoms of a TMJ disorder for more than a few days, you may want to visit an experienced dentist for diagnosis and treatment.1,2

  • Pain in your face or around your ear when you chew or open your mouth
  • Feeling that your jaw cannot open fully
  • Feeling like your jaw is momentarily stuck in the open or closed position
  • Trouble chewing or feeling like your bite is no longer aligned
  • Sounds of clicking, popping, or grating in the jaw joint when you move it
  • Swelling and pain on one or both sides of your face
  • Headaches, toothaches, neck aches, dizziness, shoulder pain, and tinnitus

How Will Your Dentist Determine if You Have a TMD?

After listening to your symptoms, your dentist will perform an examination to help identify the causes of your condition, which might include:

  • Pressing on different areas of your face while you open and close your mouth
  • Listening to the sounds made by your TMJ
  • Measuring your range of motion and any stuck places in your movement
  • Performing dental x-rays, CT scans, or an MRI to look at the TMJ
  • Recommending further diagnostic tests, including an arthroscopy or other oral surgery

Treatment Options for TMJ Disorders

One of the first things you can do about TMJ pain is to take an over-the-counter pain medication. Ibuprofen or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) can reduce the pain and swelling, giving you some relief. Avoid overextending your jaw when chewing and yawning to allow the joint time to heal.

It is recommended that you eat soft foods, and use gentle jaw-stretching and relaxation techniques to loosen the joint. Then use alternating ice packs and warm washcloths at 5- or 10-minute intervals to reduce swelling and increase blood flow. Massaging the joint may also provide some relief.

If these at home remedies for TMJ pain do not work, you should seek advice from a dentist experienced with TMD treatment options. Your dentist or doctor might recommend:3

  • Muscle relaxants to reduce spasms
  • Diagnostic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Prescription-strength pain relievers
  • Tricyclic antidepressants, which at low doses help with tooth grinding and sleep
  • Mouthguards or oral splints, which provide a cushion between the teeth
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgery on the TMJ

Seeking Treatment for TMJ Disorders

If you are suffering from the pain and worry of a temporomandibular disorder, schedule a consultation with a dentist that you trust. Dr. Joseph Goodman and his team at the Top Beverly Hills Dentist office can fully diagnose your condition and advise you on the use of night guards or other appliances that can reduce your symptoms.

Many patients travel long distances to meet with Dr. Goodman, who has been voted Top Dentist and Best Dentist several times. His skills are so well regarded that he lectures and practices in Europe as well as the United States. Dr. Goodman will perform a full evaluation of the root causes of your TMJ disorder, and he can guide you to the treatment plan that is right for your oral health and your beautiful smile.


  1. https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/health-info/tmd
  2. https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/temporomandibular-disorders-tmd
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tmj/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350945

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