An In-Depth Look Into the Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment of TMJ

An In-Depth Look Into the Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment of TMJ

Oct 01, 2020

Pain in your jaw can be excruciating and can even make talking and eating become daunting tasks. What’s even worse is if you do not know what is causing the pain. If you have experienced such pain, then high chances are it is related to the temporomandibular joint.

It’s the joint that connects your lower and upper jawbones. If this joint is out of whack, you will have the symptoms associated with the temporomandibular joint disorder. Most of the time, you might think that you have a tooth infection.

However, the disorder is treatable. Let’s look at what the condition is all about.

Understanding TMD

The temporomandibular joint operates like a sliding hinge that connects your jawbone to the skull. The joint is located on either side of your jaw and is in front of each ear.

The joint enables you to move your jaw from side to side and up and down, talk, yawn, and chew.

Whenever you have a problem with your jaw and the muscles controlling it, you can have the condition known as temporomandibular disorder (TMD). However, most people wrongly refer to it as TMJ.

Orthodontics is the branch of dentistry that deals with TMD. The disorder is known to affect more women than men. It is more prevalent in people between 20 and 40 years.

What Are the Causes of TMD?

The exact cause of TMD is not known. Most of us believe that the disorder arises from issues with the muscles that control the jaw.

A heavy blow or injury to your head, jaw or neck can lead to TMD. Other than that, here are some causes of TMD:

  • Arthritis in the joint
  • Poor posture
  • Orthodontic braces
  • Connective tissue diseases that affect the TMJ
  • Chronic clenching and grinding of teeth
  • Disc erosion in the jaw
  • The anxiety that causes you to tighten the jaw and facial muscles
  • Movement of the disc between the ball and socket of the TMJ
  • Dislocation

What Are the Symptoms?

TMD will cause excruciating pain and can be very uncomfortable. The effects can be temporary, or they can last for several years. Both sides of your jaw can be affected. Be on the lookout for the following symptoms:

  • A tired feeling in your face
  • Swelling on the side of your face
  • Trouble chewing
  • Uncomfortable bite where your lower and upper teeth are not fitting as they should
  • Jaws that get stuck in the closed or open position
  • Tenderness or pain in your face, neck, jaw joint area, shoulders
  • Pain around the ear when chewing, opening your mouth wide, or speaking
  • Difficulty opening your mouth
  • Popping, clicking, or grating sounds when you open or close your mouth

If you don’t experience any pain or limitation of movement when your jaw has a clicking sound, most probably, you don’t need TMD treatment.


Once you come in for a checkup, our dentist will examine your jaw and will probably:

    • Observe the range of motion in your jaw
    • Feel and listen to your jaw when you close and open your mouth

Press on the areas where you are feeling pain

If there is a problem, then you may need:

  • A CT scan to provide detailed images of your bones
  • Dental X-rays to examine your jaw and teeth
  • MRI to reveal issues with the surrounding soft tissue


In some scenarios, the symptoms may go away on their own. If your symptoms persist, our dentist may recommend a variety of TMJ treatment options such as:

Medical Treatment

  • Medications such as pain relievers and anti-inflammatories to relieve TMJ pain.
  • Muscle relaxants can be used for a few days to help ease pain created by muscle spasms
  • Tricyclic antidepressants in low doses can be used for pain relief and bruxism control


Some of the non-drug treatment options can be:

  • Physical therapy along with exercises that strengthen the jaw muscles
  • Counseling can help you understand the factors that cause the disorder and what to do so that you can avoid any behavior that can aggravate your pain
  • Oral splints or mouth guards are also used to help manage TMJ disorder

Surgical Options

When the other treatments do not alleviate your pain, then our dentist may suggest surgery. Some surgical procedures used may include open joint surgery, injections at the joint, arthrocentesis, TMJ arthroscopy, or modified condylotomy.

Anytime you might be dealing with pain on your face, ear, or jaw, you may be dealing with TMD. You can contact our Seattle dentist at Greenlake Dental if you need to know more about TMD.

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