TMJ is a Tamporomandibular joint and any problem in the functioning of the joint is called the TMJ syndrome. There might be a variety of reasons for the causes of TMJ pain but it is important to remember that all reasons lead to one logical conclusion i.e. a lot of pain. So what exactly is TMJ? The Tamporomandibular joint is a very complex one and even the slightest of issues can cause severe pain in the jaw.

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TMJ Diagnosis

TMJ diagnosis is not simple since its symptoms are shared with other conditions. The symptoms vary among patients from ringing ear pain to tension headaches. It could therefore take months and a couple of doctors before you get an accurate diagnosis on your condition. However, a dentist is in the best place to assist TMJ patients since the joint is in the facial area. If you suspect that you may be suffering from any TMJ complication, it is recommended that you visit your dentist.

TMJ Syndrme and Pain

The diagnosis of this disorder is initiated with an oral health check-up. This is a thorough procedure which will examine the jaw area for any tenderness or swelling. Jaw joints are also assessed to identify if there is any clicking and if their movement is in order. A clench test is may also be conducted. This is done to identify the nature of the pain you are undergoing. The clench test reveals the teeth’s structure and a bad bite is usually a result of pain either in the jaw or teeth.

X-rays can also be taken to carry out a proper analysis of the jaw structure. The X-ray and teeth impressions are both used to create a jaw/bite connection and hence identify the state of the TMJ. A T-Scan is used to further establish the exact disorder present. Depending on the extent of your condition your dentist may require you to take an MRI or CT scan among other analysis tests on your jaw joint. It is important to ensure that you visit your dentist regularly, and especially when you constantly clench your teeth or feel jaw pains. TMJ can be very painful and uncomfortable, so early treatment is advised in order to treat or cure TMJ.

TMJ Causes

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder is a condition that affects the face, head, jaw, neck, jaw nerves, and muscles as well as the temporomandibular joint itself. The root cause of this disorder is excess strain on the jaw joint brought about by a variety of reasons. When treating temporomandibular joint disorder, it is important to know what the exact causes are in order to treat the condition effectively. Patients tend to self medicate themselves with painkillers and other treatment therapies letting the condition control their lives for years. It is therefore important to seek medical advice when experiencing TMJ pain. There are a variety of causes for TMJ disorders and these may come from lifestyle choices, diseases, or even accidents.

TMJ dysfunction can cause neck pain, headaches, tinnitus, as well as numerous related symptoms. The most common is trauma, micro trauma, stress, nutrition, postural problems, or hormonal variations. Any injury to the jaw, muscles, or joints of the neck and head – such as a whiplash or heavy blow – may cause TMJ. Other probable causes can be clenching or grinding of the teeth that put pressure on the joint, soft disc, or cushion dislocation between the sockets and ball. Also the presence of rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis in the joint as well as stress causes a person to tighten their jaw and facial muscles or clench their teeth.

TMJ or TMJ dysfunction often compromises the flexibility of the jaw and can cause TMJ pain at rest or during common movements such as during talking, yawning, or chewing. The TMJ anatomy is made up of the hinge of the joint that is attached to the lower jaw known as the mandible, and to the temporal skull bone that is right in front of each ear on both sides of the head. These joints are extremely malleable and allow for the jaw to smoothly move from side to side as well as up and down.

The American Dental Association points to various causes for TMJ pain with the causes depending on each individual’s case.

The Most Common TMJ Causes


Trauma to the head, neck, face and jaw can lead to a temporomandibular fracture. This trauma can come about from a punch to the face, especially to the jaw area, a fall, or an accident where the impact was on the head. Other causes include injuries to the chin, whiplash, or contact sports related injuries. Internal Derangement is common with injuries and occurs when the TMJ jaw is dislodged or dislocated. This could be caused by a number of reasons such as a fight or even an accident.


Major causes of the TMJ syndrome include bruxism and clenching.  Both of them are major contributors usually when a person gets hogged with the Tamporomandibularjoint pain. Bruxism is the habit of grinding your teeth. This can result in inflammation, muscle spasms, and can wear down the teeth. The constant grinding of teeth can cause inflammation around the joint which can cause hindrance in the movement of the joint. Simply grinding food with one’s teeth doesn’t cause bruxism, rather it’s the grinding using misaligned teeth or having two mismatched teeth, that cause the inflammation. Teeth grinding begins as a small habit but can slowly become a consistent occurrence that gets out of control. Most people who grind their teeth have a hard time stopping and even find themselves grinding their teeth as they sleep.


Clenching items with your teeth is another habit that can lead to temporomandibular joint disorder and cause TMJ pain. Clenching is due to continually clenching your teeth together, which overworks the joint and as a result, one starts feeling pain in the joint after a certain period of time. Clenching could be in the form of chewing gum, biting fingernails, pencils and pens. Clenching the jaw repeatedly can destroy teeth, dislodge the jaw bone and cause pain as well. However, dislodged teeth from bruxism and clenching can be treated using braces.


TMJ Arthritis is characterised by inflammatory and degenerative joints and is one of the causes of TMJ. There are two types of arthritic changes which may cause the TMJ syndrome. Osteoarthritis is one type of arthritis which can cause a lot of pain in the joint and can seriously dent your dental and oral health. It is usually caused due to the breakdown of the Tamporomandibular joint as a result of normal aging and thus, it is one of the major causes of TMJ in senior citizens. Rheumatoid arthritis is the other type of arthritis which is also a major cause for TMJ. It is one of the major reasons for TMJ syndrome in children as rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation around the TMJ joint, which restricts movement of the joint, resulting in severe pain. Rheumatoid and Osteoarthritis are both bone ailments which may also lead to arthritis. Osteoarthritis is usually found in aged bones which tend to degenerate leading to cartilage loss and a lack of new bone formation. Rheumatoid arthritis, especially in young children, can also lead to bone deformities and inflammation in a variety of joints.

Drug Abuse:

Drugs such as cocaine involve a lot mouth activity such as clenching and grinding and hence lead to a TMJ problem.

Improper Posture:

People are always advised to maintain a good posture by sitting upright without slouching or hunching the back. Unfortunately not many people follow this advice. A bad posture places a lot of pressure on the spine and hence the temporomandibular joint causing TMJ pain. Constant slouching shifts the lower jaws forward and as result your teeth alignment becomes unproportional.

Taking Oversized Bites:

Though taken lightly, taking large bites of food stresses the jaw muscles and can be a contributor to TMJ conditions. It is important that you do not stress your mouth and instead only eat what can comfortably fit. Another possible cause, although much less common, results from excessively chewing gum or hard, sticky candies.

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TMJ Anatomy:

Another major cause of TMJ and TMJ pain is none other than the anatomical features of the person. Some people are born with a natural problem like the presence of scar tissue in and around the TMJ area, which can create serious problems for them while biting or chewing anything. This would put a lot of pressure on the joint, and as a result, the person with such an anatomical problem would suffer from the TMJ syndrome.

There are a number of other causes which can cause TMJ such as certain diseases which can cause inflammation around the joint, while low-level infections and dislocation of the joint are other major causes. Someone can also have myofacial pain which brings about grave pain and distress in the jaw muscles and nerves. It’s important to find out the cause for TMJ because this will determine the kind of treatment the person will undergo. The symptoms of TMJ make the cause often very clear and thus, it becomes easier for the dentist to decide a plan of action on how to tackle the TMJ syndrome.

1 Comment

Valerie Stanton · 04/10/2015 at 17:01

I am a 66 year old woman. I had a tooth re-filled (meaning a tooth with an old filling done over because it started to decay under the filling) July 20,2015. Sept.1, 2015, that tooth (on the bottom left) started having sensitivity to hot and cold. I got back in to the dentist and he said the filling might have been too high, causing pressure in that spot. I told him the teeth on top right above that tooth were starting to hurt as well. He ground the filling down and told me to try that. Eleven days later I called back saying the tooth was still hurting. I got back in again and he ground the filling down a little more. About a week after that I was in dire pain, the left lower jaw was throbbing, the top teeth on the same side were throbbing, my throat on the left side was hurting, in front of my left ear was getting shooting pains, the left side of my tongue was aching and sore like I had a raw spot on it. I was up walking the floors at night getting maybe 1-2 hours of sleep. One night the pain was so bad, it started going down into the left side of my chest. My throat felt like it was tightening and my tongue felt like it was being pulled backward down my throat. It scared me to death. I thought I was having a heart attack. Out to the ER we went! After many tests, bloodwork and chest x-ray, it was all coming back normal!! The ER Dr. asked what had been going on, so I told him about my tooth pain. He asked if I was on an antibiotic and I said no. He gave me Percoset for the pain, and Clydamycin for the antibiotic. Well the Percoset upset my stomach the next day and I was throwing up, on top of being in pain. I called the dentist again, and he ground the tooth down some more, and gave me Zithromax, thinking the Clyndomycin was making me sick. He gave me Tylenol with Codeine for the pain. Long story short…..about a week later I went to an Endodontist and had a root canal done on the tooth. Thinking all was going to get better now, right? WRONG! A week later, STILL in pain. Called the Endodontist and they prescribed Clyndamycin and 800 mg of Motrin every 6 hours. STILL in pain. It comes and goes now. I’m able to sleep more hours now, but I have attacks of pain that are excruciating! It hurts above my top teeth on left side, below my bottom teeth on the left side, my left temple and the worst pain is in front of my left ear and sometimes feels like it’s down inside the ear canal. I ice my face and have to keep moving it around and eventually it will let up. Hot or cold on the inside of my mouth sets the whole thing off again, but icing my face on the outside seems to calm it somewhat. I’m in a quandry as to whether to go to an ENT group or an oral surgeon to see if someone can diagnose my problem. TMJ, TMD, cracked root to the tooth that had a root canal? I don’t want to have the tooth pulled if it’s TMJ, but the Endodontist said “He didn’t see a crack when he was done with the root canal….didn’t mean there wasn’t one there, but he couldn’t see one.” Twice lately I had an ice cream cone. I ate it with no problems, keeping it on the opposite side so as not to cause a flare up to the affected side. About five minutes later (both times) the pain came on strong, in front of my left ear, left temple and jaw. I iced it, moving the ice bag around the jaw, in front of my ear and side of my face, for a half hour before it retreated! The pain is so sharp it makes me sick to my stomach. I’ve lost almost all my hearing in my right ear from two different perforations when flying. My left ear is my only good ear, and I am so afraid of losing my hearing in that ear from this pain. This all started after a filling in my tooth!!

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