Two of the most-used joints in the body (and also most overlooked) are the temporomandibular joints, the joints on either side of your head that connect your lower jawbone to your skull. The movement of the jaw is supported by an intricate combination of muscles, bones, and nerves that make up these important joints. TMJ (also referred to as TMD) disorders occur when any one of these working parts becomes damaged and stops working properly, sometimes causing chronic facial pain.

TMJ disorders are often associated with clicking or popping of the jaw, but other symptoms include jaw pain, headaches, limited motion of the mouth, uneven bite, and teeth sensitivity. Some people with TMJ disorders also experience pain in other areas of the face, including the temples, ears, neck, and even the back.

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than ten million Americans are affected by TMJ disorders, with a higher incidence in women. However, the causes of TMJ disorders are still relatively unknown. Most experts believe that injury or trauma to the jaw area and excessive strain (sometimes from clenching and grinding the teeth) can cause some types of TMJ disorders, but more research needs to be done.

If you are experiencing chronic jaw pain or any of the symptoms listed above, it may be time to see your doctor. Some symptoms of TMJ disorders can also be symptomatic of other disorders, and your doctor can help rule out any other injuries or conditions that may be causing your pain. If it is determined that you have a TMJ disorder, treatment will depend on the extent of the pain and condition. Treatment options include medication, diet modification (eating softer foods, for example), physical therapy, ice and heat applications, stress reduction, jaw massage, use of a mouth guard, corrective dentistry, and surgery.