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Temporomandibular Disorder

(TMD; Temporomandibular Joint Disorder; Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction; TMJ Syndrome; TMJ Osteoarthritis)
  • Definition

    Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a painful condition in the joint that lets the jaw move. These temporomandibular joints are the small joints in front of each ear. They attach the lower jaw (mandible) to the skull. The disorder may affect the jaw joint or the muscles surrounding it. The disorder can include:
    • Damage to the joint surface or intra-articular disc
    • Displacement or complete dislocation of jaw bones
    • Muscle spasm
    The Temporomandibular Joint
    factsheet image
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
  • Causes

    The exact cause of TMD is often unclear. Possible causes include:
    • Injury of the jaw or face
    • Excess tension in the jaw muscles
    • Faulty alignment between the upper and lower teeth
    • Disturbed movement of the jaw joint
    • Displacement or abnormal position of the jaw joint or cartilage disc inside the jaw joint
    • Arthritis or similar inflammatory process in the joint
    • Excess or limited motion of the joint
  • Risk Factors

    TMD is more common in women aged 30-50 years old. Other factors that increase your chance of TMD include:
  • Symptoms

    TMD may cause:
    • Pain in the temporomandibular joint, jaw, or face
    • Pain may be worse with chewing, yawning, or opening the mouth
    • Clicking, popping, or grating sounds with movement of the jaw
    • A sensation of the jaw catching or locking briefly, while attempting to open or close the mouth, or while chewing
    • Difficulty opening the mouth completely
    • A bite that feels off, uncomfortable, or as though it is frequently changing
    • Headache
    • Earache
    • Neck pain
  • Diagnosis

    You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The physical exam may include:
    • Range of motion of the jaw tests
    • Listening for sounds of popping or clicking in the temporomandibular joints
    • Visual inspection of your teeth, temporomandibular joints, and muscles of your face and head
    • Palpation of the joints and the muscles of the face and head
    Images may be needed of your jaw to check for abnormalities causing TMD. This can be done with:
    • X-rays
    • Arthrography—jaw movements videotaped with x-rays taken after dye is injected into the joint
    • MRI scan
    • CT scan
  • Treatment

    Usually, the least invasive measures will be tried first. Treatment may include:
    Lifestyle Measures
    The area will need time to heal:
    • Rest the jaw with a soft diet
    • Restrict movement with smaller bites, avoiding wide yawning, and gum chewing
    • Apply ice or heat packs for pain relief
    • Gentle jaw stretching and exercises
    The most commonly used medications include:
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen
    • Muscle relaxants
    • Antidepressants
    Some medication may be injected into the jaw such as:
    • Pain relievers, such as cortisone or lidocaine
    • Botulinum toxin (Botox)—may offer temporary relief if pain or clicking are major symptoms
    Physical Therapy
    To help reduce pain and allow muscles to relax:
    • Gentle massage or stretching exercises
    • Gentle strengthening exercises or muscle balance exercises to retain alignment
    • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
    Stress Reduction
    Some may benefit from counseling to learn stress management and relaxation techniques, such as:
    Dental Procedures
    A splint or mouth guard can be made to relax the jaw muscles, and prevent clenching and grinding of the teeth. The guard is usually worn at night. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of proof it works.
    Correction of bite abnormalities by a dentist or orthodontist is sometimes needed.
    Surgical Procedures
    Surgical correction is a last resort. Many of the available procedures have not been well-studied for their effectiveness.
  • Prevention

    There are no current guidelines to prevent TMD.

    Mouth Healthy—American Dental Association

    The TMJ Association


    Canadian Dental Association

    Canadian Society of Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery


    National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research website. Available at: Updated July 10, 2014. Accessed May 16, 2016.

    Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction . EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated May 11, 2015. Accessed May 16, 2016.

    Haley DP, Schiffman EL, et al. The relationship between clinical and MRI findings in patients with unilateral temporomandibular joint pain. J Am Dent Assoc. 2001;132(4):476-481.

    Borodic GE, Acquadro MA. The use of botulinum toxin for the treatment of chronic facial pain. J Pain. 2002;3(1):21-27.

    DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance Turner JA, Mancl L, Aaron LA. Short- and long-term efficacy of brief cognitive-behavioral therapy for patients with chronic temporomandibular disorder pain: a randomized, controlled trial Pain. 2006;121(3):171-172.

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