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What is it

Temporomandibular joint attaches the lower jaw the mandible towards the temporal bone at the side of the head.  You can feel the joint move when you place your fingers just in front of your ears and open your mouth. Pain associated with the temporomandibular joint was, until recently, called temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome but was recently rechristened temporomandibular disorders (TMD). The new name, it was hoped, would more accurately reflect the complexity of the disorder. Either way, the term refers to a grinding or clicking sound, plus pain or discomfort, when you open your mouth a feeling that your jaw has come unhinged.

In most people TMD is not serious, but it can persist painfully. For unknown reasons 90 percent of TMD sufferers are women.


  • Sore jaw muscles, difficulty chewing, and pain that spreads to the facial and neck muscles and persists around the clock; in some cases difficulty speaking or singing.
  • Painful clicking, bursting, or rough sounds in the jaw joint whenever closing and opening the mouth.
  • Headaches, toothaches, and earaches may also be part of the syndrome.

What causes it

What causes TMD has been a matter of dispute-emotional stress is often cited but there is probably no single cause. The bones, ligaments, and muscles of the jaw hinge are a complicated mechanism, and many factors can adversely affect the joint, particularly in combination:

Teeth grinding

  • Bruxism and clenching may cause muscle spasm, or be triggered by it and muscle spasm, in turn, results more spasm. Many experts think this (and the emotional stress that sometimes leads to teeth clenching and grinding) is at the root of most TMD cases.
  • Malocclusion (teeth that don’t fit together properly) can throw the jaw out of line.
  • Internal derangement of the jaw or other orthopedic problems of the joint (such as arthritis, degeneration of the bone, injury, or developmental disorders) can play a role.

Postural problems

  • Particularly thrusting the chin forward, can strain the neck muscles and those of the jaw. Beware also of gripping a phone between your shoulder and cheek during a long conversation, or of carrying a heavy shoulder bag for long periods on the same shoulder. Strained neck and shoulder muscles can affect the muscles in your jaw.
  • A blow to the jaw can result in TMD, as can whiplash.
  • Chewing gum or too many chewy foods (bagels, beef, candies, or dried fruits) can promote or aggravate TMD.

What if you do nothing

For most people, the discomfort from TMD is occasional and temporary; the pain will eventually go away with little or no treatment. However, many people who develop symptoms of TMD consult a physician or dentist to rule out other conditions.

Home remedies

The first line of treatment for TMD is simple self-care. For nearly everyone, the following measures will cure or control TMD.

Try a soft diet

Going on a soft diet for a few days can help. Good food choices include cereals, soups, and pastas. Also, chew more slowly and eat smaller bites. Avoid steak and other hard-to-chew foods.

Use pain relievers

Aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen can reduce pain and muscle spasm. Cold or hot compresses to the jaw may also help. Experiment to see which is best for you, or apply ice and then moist heat to the jaw.

Rest your jaw as much as you can

If you chew gum, stop. Excessive chewing will only exacerbate or prolong the problem. Also, squelch cavernous yawns (hold your chin in place with your fingers).

Improve your posture

Correct any poor postural habits that may be contributing to your problem. Try gentle exercises to relax your neck muscles: roll your head in circles, or stretch your chin toward each shoulder in turn and hold for a few seconds. You may need the help of a physical therapist or another practitioner with experience in body mechanics.

Relieve stress

If you believe that emotional problems are contributing to your TMD, try to pinpoint the source of stress or unhappiness and do what you can to alleviate it. Some type of psychological counseling may be worthwhile.


No established measures can prevent TMD, but minimizing or avoiding the factors noted may reduce the risk of getting the condition.

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