TMJ disorders — a type of temporomandibular disorder or TMD — can cause pain in your jaw joint and in the muscles that control jaw movement. The exact cause of a person’s TMJ disorder is often difficult to determine. Your pain may be due to a combination of factors, such as genetics, arthritis or jaw injury.
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the hinge joint connecting your jawbone to your skull. The TMJ is responsible for opening and closing the jaw, as well as side-to-side movement of the jaw. TMJ disorders can occur when this joint, or other parts of the temporomandibular system, become inflamed or injured.
TMJ disorders are commonly caused by stress or overuse of the jaw muscles. Other potential causes include:
Genetics — If you have a family history of TMJ disorders, you may be more likely to develop them yourself.
— If you have a family history of TMJ disorders, you may be more likely to develop them yourself. Age — As you age, your risk for developing a TMJ disorder increases. However, younger people can also develop these conditions.
TMJ disorders can be mild, moderate or severe. Mild TMJ disorders may include occasional jaw pain and tension headaches. Moderate TMJ disorders may cause frequent and more severe jaw pain, as well as difficulty chewing and speaking. Severe TMJ disorders may cause chronic pain in the face, ear, head and neck region; significant difficulty chewing or opening your mouth; teeth grinding; and/or frequent headaches.
There are several physical tests that can be performed to evaluate a person for TMJ disorders. These tests include:
In most cases, physical testing is only part of the evaluation process for TMJ disorders. Your dentist will also want to know about your medical history, including any previous surgeries or injuries that may have affected your ability to chew or open your mouth normally. Other factors that will affect the diagnostic process are the length of time you have been experiencing symptoms and whether you smoke cigarettes or consume large amounts of caffeine regularly (both of which can worsen symptoms).