Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Pain


The temporomandibular joint is the joint that connects the jaw to the temporal bones of the skull, which are located in front of the ear. This joint acts as a hinge that allows the jaw to move up and down as well as side-to-side. It plays an important role in the act of talking, chewing, yawning, etc…

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and the surrounding muscles can be the source of many problems, such as:

  • Facial pain
  • Headaches
  • Painful chewing
  • Wear on teeth
  • Restricted mouth opening
  • Clicking

Problems in this area of the body are clinically referred to as temporomandibular disorders (TMD), but are commonly referred to as TMJ by the general public, after the joint itself.

What Causes TMJ Related Pain?

The direct cause of TMJ pain is somewhat unknown, but it is believed that symptoms arise from problems with the jaw muscles or with the parts of the joint itself. Injuries that affect the jaw, the joint, or the muscles of your neck and head, such as whiplash for instance, can lead to temporomandibular disorders. Other potential causes may include:

  • Clenching or grinding of the teeth that puts additional pressure on the joint
  • Arthritis in the temporomandibular joint
  • Movement of the disc between the ball and socket of the joint
  • The effects of stress, which often causes us to clench our teeth and tighten the muscles of the jaw and face

What Are the Symptoms of Temporomandibular Disorders?

Those that suffer from TMD often experience severe pain and discomfort that may be temporary or last for several years. Symptoms can arise on one or both sides of the face, and can include:

  • Pain or tenderness of the face, jaw joint, neck, shoulders or the ear when you speak, chew or try to open the mouth too wide.
  • Difficulty opening the mouth wide or chewing
  • Popping, clicking or grating sounds that emanate from the jaw joint when opening and closing the mouth and chewing.
  • Jaws that get stuck in a locked position, this can occur when the mouth is open or closed.
  • A general feeling of tiredness in the face
  • Experiencing a sudden uncomfortable bite while chewing
  • Swelling on the side of the face

Individuals who experience TMJ pain may also experience:

  • Headaches
  • Neck aches
  • Toothaches
  • Earaches
  • Dizziness
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Hearing problems
  • Upper shoulder problems

Who is Affected by Temporomandibular Disorders?

Temporomandibular disorders are most common in adults between the ages of 20 and 40. TMD tends to be more prevalent among women than men as well. Although it is not completely clear why that it, there are some factors that may make women more prone to TMJ problems, including certain medical conditions, hormones, joint structure, stress levels and certain vitamin deficiencies.

How are Temporomandibular Disorders Treated?

Treatment for TMJ disorders varies and depends largely on the extent of the condition. Many other conditions can cause symptoms similar to TMJ disorder, so your physician will perform a physical exam and ask about your health history to determine if your symptoms are related to the temporomandibular joint. X-rays may also be taken to evaluate the structure of the jaw, temporomandibular joints and teeth.

There are some at-home treatments that can be implemented to help manage TMJ pain, including:

  • Over the counter pain medications
  • Application of moist heat or cold packs
  • Adding more soft foods to your diet
  • Keeping extreme jaw movements to a minimum (yawning, yelling, gum chewing, etc..)
  • Working on maintaining better posture throughout the day
  • Practice keeping your teeth slightly apart to avoid clenching and grinding
  • Learn stress reduction and relaxation techniques

Traditional medical treatment for TMJ related disorders can include:

  • Both prescription and over-the-counter medications
  • Splints or night guards that fit over the teeth to minimize the effects of grinding, clenching or an abnormal bite
  • Dental work to replace missing teeth or to balance the biting surfaces of your teeth

If the above treatments do not provide the patient with relief, there are other more advanced measures that can be taken to resolve the issue. These treatments can include:

  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
  • Trigger-point injections
  • Radiowave therapy
  • Ultrasound
  • Low-level laser therapy

In more severe cases of temporomandibular disorders, surgery may be considered as an option. These procedures vary, but typically use a specialized tool to dislodge damaged tissue from the jaw and realign the disc or joint.

Schedule a Consultation with an Austin Pain Specialist

Our providers are Austin pain management physicians with extensive experience and knowledge in both pain assessment and treatment. If you are experiencing pain in the jaw, face, neck or shoulders, your symptoms may be related to the temporomandibular joint. Call the Diagnostic Pain Center today at (512) 981-7246 to schedule a pain evaluation appointment with an Austin pain doctor.