9 things you should know about TMJ pain
General Dentistry

9 things you should know about TMJ pain

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There can be many reasons for jaw pain – from a dislocated jaw to issues with your teeth. If your jaw hurts when you open your mouth or chew and grind food, or if your jaw is making clicking, popping or grating noises, the problem might be related to the temporomandibular joints (TMJ).

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There can be many reasons for jaw pain – from a dislocated jaw to issues with your teeth. If your jaw hurts when you open your mouth or chew and grind food, or if your jaw is making clicking, popping or grating noises, the problem might be related to the temporomandibular joints (TMJ).

TMJ pain can get worse if it's not treated. If you think that you might have a TMJ disorder, here are 9 important things to know. Make an appointment with a dentist for a professional diagnosis and to discuss your treatment options.

1. What is TMJ?

The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are the two joints on each side of the jaw that connect the lower jaw to the upper jaw and the skull. They are located just in front of the ears, which is why ear pain is often a symptom of TMJ problems.

These joints are what allow the jaw to move when you open and close your mouth and chew and grind food. Problems that affect these joints are collectively known as TMJ disorders or dysfunction (TMJD). These can affect your ability to eat, speak and perform other actions normally.

2. TMJ pain is common

TMJD is the second most common reason for orofacial pain (pain of the mouth and face) after toothache. It's estimated that between 20% and 30% of adults experience some form of TMJ pain, ranging from mild to severe, although many don't know that this is related to TMJD.

TMJ disorders can affect people of all ages, but they are most common in adults between the ages of 20 and 40. They also tend to affect women more than men.

3. Symptoms of TMJ disorders

TMJ pain is the most common symptom of TMJD, especially if it happens when eating, yawning or during other jaw movements. Other common TMJD symptoms include:

  • pain in front of the ears or in the face, jaw or neck
  • stiffness or locking of the jaw
  • clicking, popping or grating noises when you move your jaw
  • your upper and lower teeth no longer fit together normally

If you have one or more of these symptoms, make an appointment with your dentist. They can assess your teeth and jaws to diagnose TMJD or another problem and recommend appropriate treatments.

4. Types of TMJ disorders

TMJD isn't a single condition. These disorders are generally grouped into three categories:

  • Dislocation or injury of the jaw or joints (internal derangement)
  • Pain in the jaw muscles that support the TMJ (myofascial pain)
  • A joint condition such as osteoarthritis affecting the TMJ

Knowing what type of TMJ disorder you have is important for planning effective treatment.

5. TMJ pain can have many causes

There can be many reasons for jaw aches and pains, and there isn't always a single cause. Some of the most common causes of TMJD are:

  • an uneven bite caused by an orthodontic issue or recent dental work such as a filling or dentures
  • grinding or clenching your teeth (bruxism) while sleeping, feeling stress or due to other causes
  • trauma or injury to the jaw or TMJ
  • arthritis or other joint conditions causing inflammation or damage to the TMJ

Face and jaw pain can have other causes not related to TMJD, such as an ear or sinus infection or a dental abscess. Your dentist will try to identify the most likely cause or causes so they can recommend suitable treatments.

6. TMJ pain doesn't always need treatment

Most cases of TMJD are mild and temporary, but that doesn't mean you should ignore the symptoms. A dentist can diagnose the cause of your jaw pain and advise you whether treatment is needed or recommend home remedies or lifestyle changes that could help to relieve pain and discomfort.

You could ease the symptoms of TMJD and relieve stress on your jaw joints by:

  • avoiding hard and chewy foods and chewing gum
  • cutting food into bite-sized portions
  • trying not to open your mouth wide
  • taking over-the-counter pain relief, anti-inflammatory or muscle relaxation medication
  • placing an ice pack or cold compress against the aching joint
  • trying gentle jaw stretching exercises
  • trying to avoid teeth grinding or clenching

7. Your dentist may be able to help

If your TMJ pain is caused by a physical problem with the joint or is related to a dental problem, a dentist can usually help. Diagnosis and treatment planning for TMJ disorders involves a physical examination and may also involve taking x-rays or other scans.

Dental treatments for TMJ pain can include:

  • wearing a bite splint similar to a mouthguard to ease strain on the TMJ or prevent teeth grinding
  • teeth straightening using orthodontics or other treatments to properly align the teeth and jaws
  • rebuilding damaged, worn or misshapen teeth by placing crowns or fillings
  • muscle relaxant injections into the jaw

(Want to learn more about orthodontics? Read our blog: Is Orthodontics Right For Me?).

8. Surgery is rarely needed

Severe cases of TMJD may require surgery to replace a damaged jaw joint with an implant. This can relieve TMJ pain, but the implant may need to be replaced after a number of years or if damaged.

9. Most TMJ problems can be prevented

Injury and illness can't always be avoided, but most TMJ pain can be prevented or reduced in severity when you know how to lower your risks. You can do this by:

  • not putting pressure on the jaw joints by biting hard objects or opening your mouth too wide
  • wearing a custom mouthguard while playing contact sports
  • maintaining good posture
  • trying to avoid stress that can cause jaw clenching or teeth grinding
  • visiting your doctor and dentist for regular check-ups to catch problems before they develop

If your dentist thinks you could benefit from therapy or physical therapy to help treat an underlying cause of TMJD, they can refer you to a suitably qualified professional.

Talk to a dentist in East Victoria Park

If you think you might have TMJ pain or other issues with your mouth or jaw, our dentists can help. We serve the residents of South Perth, Victoria Park and Bentley.

Call 08 9470 3944 to make an appointment at EVP Dental or book online so our experienced dentists can give you a complete assessment and discuss your treatment options.


  • Healthdirect. Temporomandibular joint disorder [Online] 2017 [Accessed October 2020] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/temporomandibular-joint-disorder
  • National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint & Muscle Disorders) [Online] 2018 [Accessed October 2020] Available from: https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/health-info/tmj/more-inf