Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome is a disorder of the jaw muscles and nerves caused by injury to the temporomandibular joint. The temporomandibular joint is the connection between the jawbone and the skull. When the joint is injured, it can lead to pain with chewing, clicking, crackling, and popping of the jaw; swelling on the sides of the face; nerve inflammation; headaches, including migraines; earaches; and tooth grinding.

Overview and Symptoms

Symptoms of TMJ disorders may include:

  • Pain in the joint area or nearby
  • Reduction of jaw movements
  • Clicks or noises can sometimes be heard coming from the jaw joint when you chew or move your mouth
  • Because the ear is very close to the jaw joint, some people develop ear symptoms such as:
  • Noise in the ear
  • Sensitivity to sound
  • Dizziness (vertigo)

Your doctor will diagnose TMJ syndrome by taking your medical history and doing a physical exam to find the cause of the symptoms. There is no specific test to diagnose TMJ syndrome. Your doctor may refer you to an oral and maxillofacial specialist, an otolaryngologist, or a dentist specializing in jaw disorders to confirm the diagnosis. Sometimes, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test may be ordered to detect damage to the cartilage of the jaw joint and to rule out other medical problems.


Depending on the diagnosis, treatment of TMJ may range from home remedies to conservative dental and medical care to complex surgery.

Medical treatment may include short-term non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain and muscle relaxation, bite plate or splint therapy, physical therapy with jaw exercises, trigger point acupuncture, and stress management counseling.

Home treatments can include:

  • Using moist heat or cold packs
  • Eating soft foods
  • Taking over-the-counter medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which include naproxen or ibuprofen, that can relieve muscle pain and swelling
  • Avoiding extreme jaw movements, such as chewing gum or excessive yawning
  • Keeping your teeth slightly apart

If these treatments can’t help you, surgery of the jaw or dental surgery is an option, including:

  • TMJ arthroscopy, or arthrocentesis, a minimally invasive procedure usually done in an outpatient setting
  • Total joint replacement of the jaw, which is more complex

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons are involved in the diagnosis and treatment of facial deformities, TMJ pain, sleep apnea and snoring, tumors and cancers of the head and neck area including oral cancer, plastic and reconstructive surgery, facial trauma and diseases of the oral cavity.

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