Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Temporomandibular joint dysfunction

3-minute read

What is the temporomandibular joint (TMJ)?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint that connects the jaw to the skull. There is a TMJ on each side of the face, in front of each ear. These joints allow the movements needed for speaking, eating and facial expression.

TMJ dysfunction can cause pain, abnormal jaw movements and joint noises. They are quite common.

What are the symptoms of TMJ dysfunction?

If you have TMJ dysfunction, 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
  • headache (especially in the temples, under the eyes and at the sides of the lower jaw)
  • earache
  • neck or shoulder pain

What causes TMJ dysfunction?

TMJ dysfunction can be caused by a number of different things, including:

Sometimes, people have TMJ dysfunction without any obvious cause.

When should I see my doctor?

If you think you might have TMJ dysfunction and it is bothering you, see your doctor or dentist. They will do a physical examination. You might be asked to have an x-ray, CT or MRI scan.

How is TMJ dysfunction treated?

TMJ pain may go away without any treatment. In the meantime, there is plenty you can do to relieve the symptoms of TMJ pain:

  • 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 TMJ dysfunction. However, medications that may be tried include pain relief medication, medications that treat inflammation, and muscle relaxants.

In most cases, TMJ dysfunction improves over time. Very few people need surgery.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2021

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.