What is TMJ Dysfunction?

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  • Written By: Katie McFarlin
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 25 October 2018
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Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction is a disorder of the jaw joints that causes pain and tenderness in the jaw. It is a common disorder that affects sufferers when they yawn, chew, or — sometimes — talk. There are many causes for TMJ dysfunction. The most common occurs after years of chronic teeth grinding. Patients also have reported mild TMJ dysfunction after extended dental visits during which they were forced to keep their mouths open for an extended period of time, stressing the joint.

People who grind their teeth use the jaw joints anytime they grind. Over time, this pressure above and beyond the ordinary stresses the jaw is designed to withstand leads to TMJ dysfunction. Other common causes of TMJ problems include arthritis and injury to the jaw. TMJ dysfunction is most common in women between the ages of 30 and 50. It may also be present in patients who suffer from fibromyalgia, sleep disturbances, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic fatigue.


TMJ dysfunction has several symptoms, including pain or a tender feeling in the jaws, especially when touched; pain around the ear; facial pain that is described as an ache; headaches; bite disturbances when the jaws are closed; having the jaw joint lock up, especially when opening the mouth wide; and hearing a clicking noise when eating, laughing, or yawning. In severe cases, or if a bad case of TMJ flares up, the sufferer may find that he or she is unable to open or close the mouth. Immediate medical attention is required if this occurs.

Although temporomandibular joint dysfunction is a painful condition, it does not typically require surgery. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin and ibuprofen are commonly recommended by dentists and orthodontists for patients suffering from TMJ. For patients who grind their teeth, nighttime bite guards may be recommended to cut down on joint stress. Bite guards may also help those whose irregular bite patterns worsen their TMJ dysfunction.

Other treatments include evening the bite if crooked alignment of the teeth is making the condition worse. Arthrocentesis, or joint irrigation, may be necessary in extreme cases. There also is a type of surgery that can be performed to repair the joint, but the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research has said that, as of 2010, it considers the surgery to be radical and controversial. The organization recommends avoiding the surgery and relying on more traditional treatment measures.



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