Understanding TMJ: A Helpful Mini-Guide for Patients in Pain


You have headaches, jaw pain, and your jaw makes this weird clicking and popping noise. People think you’re a freak, but you know better (or maybe you do think you’re a freak). The problem is TMJ or Temporomandibular Joint – specifically Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction.

What Is It?

The Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) is the joint system connecting the main body of the mandible and ramus on both sides of the skull.

The pain associated with a dysfunction of this joint is often referred to as TMJ.

While many layperson consider TMJ the medical problem, professionals refer to it as TMD, which is Temporomandibular Joint Disorder or Dysfunction.

Some of the best orthodontist in NYC diagnose this problem often, and are able to correct with it simple mechanics, appliances, and dental hardware.

The disorder itself is caused by injury to the temporomandibular joint. It can affect the jaw, nerves, muscles, and surrounding tissues. The joint is the connection point between the jawbone and the skull, so pretty much any muscle or nerve, or tendon in that area can be affected.

And, the pain can radiate or be referred throughout the body. The injured joint leads to pain when chewing, clicking and popping, and even swelling in the side of the face.

Not only that, it can cause nerve inflammation, headaches, and tooth grinding or clenching, especially at night. This, in turn, may cause or exacerbate insomnia  and sleep apnea.

Common Symptoms

Common symptoms of the disorder include:

  • Pain in the neck, jaw, or temporal regions
  • Clicking and popping in the jaw when chewing, talking, or yawning
  • Headaches, including migraines
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Swelling of the face or jaw area
  • Ear pain
  • Pain at the base of the tongue
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Shoulder pain

Some causes for TMD include:

  • Poor posture
  • Stress and muscle tension
  • Being overweight
  • People with jaw trauma and malocclusions
  • Excessive gum chewing
  • arthritis or inflammation

How Is It Diagnosed?

Usually, a doctor will diagnose the condition by taking your medical history and doing a physical exam. There’s no specific test to diagnose TMJ syndrome. However, a doctor might send you to an oral and maxillofacial specialist or a dentist that specializes in jaw disorders.

An MRI might be ordered to see if there’s any physical degeneration or dislocation that’s causing the problem.

Another condition that may be similar to TMJ syndrome is trigeminal neuralgia. The trigeminal nerve is what supplies nerve impulses to the TMJ. When irritated, it can cause facial pain.


Dentists treat TMD based on the severity of the disorder and the symptoms. So, a dental splint might be suitable for some patients, which stabilizes the area. This is basically a mouth guard you wear during the night and possibly throughout the day.

Botox may also be used to relax the muscles in the face and around the jaw.

Physical therapy might also be prescribed. And, sometimes, joint surgery or dental appliances may be used to correct the disorder.

Joanne Yates is studying to become a dentist and hopes to be qualified in the next 2 years. She is an avid learner and often researches topics just for “fun”. She also enjoys writing and often shares her knowledge with others by writing on dentistry and other health topics that she is interested in.

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