TMD symptoms like jaw pain, difficulty chewing, and headaches can last anywhere from a few days to several years. TMD can often be successfully treated at home and may even go away on its own.

While mild jaw clicking typically isn’t a reason for concern, most people are eager to treat any pain that disrupts their day-to-day quality of life.

If you’re living with TMD, Erin Fraundorf, DMD, MSD, orthodontist and founder of Orthodontic + Whitening Studio, explains what to expect.

When the complex temporomandibular joint (TMJ) endures trauma, overuse, or other issues, you may experience problems like jaw pain or difficulty eating: A condition called TMJ disorder (TMD).

Fraundorf says that “temporary TMJ discomfort may range from days to weeks, months and beyond. For others, TMD symptoms are chronic.”

Temporary TMD symptoms often onset after an acute incident, Fraundorf explains, such as:

  • dental procedures (i.e., wisdom teeth removal)
  • injuries (i.e., sports or car accidents)

Keeping the mouth open for an extended period of time during a dental procedure may cause temporary symptoms, she says, but they should resolve fairly quickly — generally within a few days. More traumatic incidents, however, such as an injury, may take a bit longer to heal.

There’s also a possible link between pregnancy and increased TMD symptoms. Fraundorf points out that according to 2023 research, pregnancy-related issues like sleep disruption, morning sickness, or higher levels of relaxin hormone in the body (which causes more laxity in the joints) could play a role. But so far, scientists can’t say anything conclusively.

If you do suspect your TMD is pregnancy-related, it should resolve during the postpartum period.

What causes chronic jaw pain or TMD?

Chronic TMD typically occurs due to an underlying issue like:

Diagnosing and treating the underlying issue can help treat chronic TMD. Learn more in this article.

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“TMD affects everyone differently,” Fraundorf explains. “Each patient is unique in their symptoms and experience.” Therefore, there is no standardized diagnosis or treatment, either.

So, when should you head to the doctor for your TMD? “Really, it’s a matter of tolerance,” Fraundorf advises. “If a patient cannot tolerate the discomfort and it is affecting their quality of life, it’s time to come see a professional.”

In many cases, however, the issue is simply “an acute flare-up that can be relieved by a little time, rest of the TMJ, and at-home nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) use.”

Even though TMJ disorder symptoms often resolve on their own, there’s not always a simple solution to actively treat it.

“The treatment of TMD is very complex because it is not black and white,” Fraundorf says. “Oftentimes it is a trial and error situation where we attempt to treat one potential cause and see how it works.”

If you have new TMJ symptoms due to dental work or another acute issue, Fraundorf explains that “just like when you work out too hard at the gym and are sore for a few days, sometimes your facial muscles and jaw joints need a little time for recovery.”

In acute situations, she recommends that you:

Other potential treatments include:

Acute TMD generally resolves within a few days to a few weeks, often on its own. To soothe pain during this time, experts recommend OTC pain relief, resting the joint, or hot/cold therapy.

In more severe and chronic cases, visiting a doctor is recommended. Measures like stress management, physical therapy, and orthopedic devices may help restore the joint to optimal functioning.