Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome occurs when the muscles, joints and ligaments of the jaw move out of alignment. Resulting symptoms include earaches, headaches, pain in the jaw area radiating to the face or the neck and shoulders, ringing in the ears or pain when opening and closing the mouth. These TMJ symptoms frequently mimic other conditions so the problem is often misdiagnosed. TMJ has a number of possible causes:

  • Bruxism (grinding your teeth in your sleep).
  • Sleeping in a way that mis-aligns the jaw or creates tension in the neck.
  • Stress-induced muscle tension in the neck and shoulder.
  • Incorrect or uneven bite.

TMJ may or may not require professional treatment. This should, however, be evaluated by a dentist. Many dentists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of TMJ. They may prescribe anti-inflammatory medicine, tranquilizers or muscle relaxants for a short period of time, braces to correct the bite or a bite plate to wear when sleeping. Some doctors recommend surgery to correct TMJ, but you should get more than one opinion before consenting to a surgical remedy.

Self-Care Tips

If you have TMJ, you may be able to minimize symptoms in the following ways:

  • Don’t chew gum.
  • Try not to open your jaw wide. This includes yawning, taking big bites out of triple-decker and submarine sandwiches or other difficult-to-eat foods).
  • Massage the jaw area several times a day, first with your mouth open, then with your mouth closed.
  • To help reduce muscle spasms that can cause pain, apply moist heat to the jaw area. (A washcloth soaked in warm water makes a convenient hot compress.)
  • If stress is a factor, consider biofeedback and relaxation training.

Questions to Ask

Are you unable to open or close your mouth because of severe pain?

Yes: Seek Emergency Care


Do you experience one or more of the following?

  • Inability to open the jaw completely
  • Pain when you open your mouth widely
  • Persistent symptoms of headache, earache or pain in the jaw area that is also felt in the face, neck or shoulders
  • “Clicking” or “popping” sounds when you open your mouth and when you chew

Yes: See Doctor


Provide Self-Care

Healthy Self: The Guide to Self-Care and Wise Consumerism

© American Institute for Preventive Medicine

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Written by American Institute for Preventive Medicine

Explore Wellness in 2021