The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint that connects your jaw to your skull. There is one on each side of your face, in front of each ear. These joints allow the movements needed for speaking, eating and facial expression.
Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) can cause pain, abnormal jaw movements and joint noises. They are quite common.
If you have TMD, you may have:
- discomfort or pain in the jaw, especially when eating
- an aching pain in front of your ear, which may spread to your face
- ‘locking’ of the jaw, making it difficult to open or close your mouth
- a clicking or grating noise when you open your mouth or chew
- an uncomfortable or uneven bite
What causes TMD?
TMD can be caused by a number of different things, including:
- dental (tooth) issues — for example, if you have new fillings or dentures causing an uneven bite
- wear and tear of the joint, usually caused by osteoarthritis
- an injury
- jaw clenching and teeth grinding, which may be linked to stress
- other diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia or gout
Sometimes, people have TMD without any obvious cause.
When to seek treatment?
TMJ pain may go away without any treatment. In the meantime, there is plenty you can do to relieve the symptoms of TMD:
- eat soft food
- avoid chewing gum
- cut all food into small pieces
- avoid clenching your jaw
- avoid opening your mouth wide
- wear a mouthguard while you sleep to prevent jaw clenching or teeth grinding
You can also try relaxation techniques to relieve stress. Gentle jaw-strengthening exercises might also help.
It is not known which medications are effective for TMD. However, medications that may be tried include painkillers, medications that treat inflammation and muscle relaxants. In most cases, TMD improves over time. Very few people need surgery.
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Last reviewed: September 2019