Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders (TMJ disorders) are problems with the joints and muscles that connect the lower jaw to the skull on both sides of the head right below the ears.

Symptoms & Causes

TMJ disorders can cause problems for all structures of the joint: cartilage, muscles (including those in the face, neck, and jaw), ligaments, nerves, and teeth. Symptoms of TMJ disorders include:

  • jaw pain
  • tenderness of the jaw
  • reduced function of jaw muscles
  • difficulty biting or chewing
  • clicking, popping, or grating noises when opening mouth
  • aching or dull pain in the face
  • earache
  • headache

Stress, grinding of the teeth (bruxism), and a misaligned bite are believed to be potential causes for TMJ disorders. Other factors that may worsen TMJ symptoms include poor posture, poor diet, or insomnia.


Doctors who treat TMJ disorders include primary care physicians; dentists; and an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctors. Simple physical exams and X-rays are generally adequate to address the issues. Options to either treat or lower the risk of TMJ disorders include:

  • over-the-counter pain relievers
  • stress-reducing exercises or activities
  • stretching or massaging the jaw muscles
  • hot or cold packs on your face
  • exercise to increase pain tolerance
  • avoiding unnecessary chewing
  • avoiding hard foods or chewing gum
  • mouth guards or splints for nighttime teeth grinding
  • muscle relaxants or antidepressant may be used in some cases
  • surgery is rarely used because it often worsens symptoms

TMJ and its related symptoms rarely last long once they’ve been treated.