TMD symptoms, causes and treatments

Problems with your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) are known as temporomandibular disorders (TMD) and can be treated here at Clinic 95 by Harris Smeyatsky and Adrian Jones.

What is the TMJ?

It is the temporomandibular joint that connects your jaw to your skull.  The actual joints are just in front of each ear – to find them, looking in a mirror, open your mouth wide and close again.  You’ll see the area of the joint move quite clearly.  Your TMJ is used every time you talk, eat, sing, yawn and brush your teeth.  It works not only to move your jaw up and down when you open and close your mouth, but also moves it to the side, giving you a full range of normal movement.

Like all the joints in your body, it’s a complex piece of machinery, with fibrocartilaginous tissue, muscles, tendons, discs, membranes and synovial fluid, which acts like oil in an engine.

There are several things that can go wrong here.  Occasionally, these are referred to as simply TMJ, although that just means the joint itself.  More correctly, problems in the joint are called TMD (or temporomandibular disorders).


These disorders have numerous causes.  In addition to a direct injury to the face, head, neck or jaw as a result of heavy impact, such as a car crash, fall or sports injury, TMD could arise because of:-

  • teeth grinding
  • stress-induced teeth clenching or tightening of the facial muscles
  • arthritis
  • degradation of the joint itself.

But the most common cause of TMD is a misalignment of the teeth on the jaw that results in a poor bite.  This occlusion means that the joint is not able to perform its full range of motion, and ends up in an unnatural position.

TMD symptoms

Whatever the cause, the symptoms of TMD can be quite painful.  The pain can be temporary, or build over (and last for) several years, and can affect either one or both joints.

Symptoms can be as mild as clicking of the jaw that may be slightly uncomfortable, to swelling and acute pain in the joint area, face, neck and head.

You may find that your bite changes, that opening or closing your mouth becomes difficult or feels different than normal.  You may experience noises from the jaw and ringing in your ears, or a ‘lock-jaw’ effect that causes the jaw to get stuck in one position.

So TMD covers a wide range of symptoms, some of which, such as headaches, dizziness or shoulder pain, you may not immediately connect with a problem in your jaw.

What happens at the TMD examination

As we've described, TMD has a fairly wide range of symptoms, most of which could be caused by things other than your jaw.  We'll take some time to carefully rule out other causes, and fully diagnose the problem, so that we can treat it fully and quickly.

We'll test the range of movement you have in your jaw, we'll listen out for any noises like clicks and grinding sounds, and we will thoroughly check your bite.
X-rays will be needed to give us a clear picture of the joint and in some cases, a CBCT scan may be required for a more detailed view.

TMD treatment options

As with all our treatments, a detailed plan will be drawn up for you. 

For TMD, this may include one or some of the following:-

  • a wearable appliance to give relief to the joint(s)
  • braces, to encourage the teeth into a better position
  • crowns, to enhance the surface and size of a tooth or teeth, so that the bite is improved
  • facial and jaw exercises to relieve tension and areas of stress
  • medication.

Reduce symptoms of TMD

You can also take some steps to relieve the discomfort of TMD if you:-

  • actively reduce stress
  • adopt good posture to ensure that your head, neck and shoulders are not tense
  • make sure you're not eating hard food such as boiled sweets or food that needs a great deal of chewing, such as bread crusts, toffee or gum
  • when necessary and in accordance with the instructions, take pain relief medication.

TMD treatment success

The types of treatment discussed, in combination with taking steps to reduce symptoms yourself, are generally successful for the majority of TMD cases.  However, more serious cases can required surgery for which you would be referred.  Of the three surgical options available, although all require a general anaesthetic, two are minimally invasive and require only a short recovery time.

So if your jaw is causing you problems, just come in for a chat.  We have two excellent dentists who will help you out.