Experts believe your genes may play a role in causing temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders. But that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily inherit such conditions. Other risk factors play an important role.
Your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is where your lower jawbone connects to your skull. “Temporomandibular” refers to the two bones that make up this joint. Your cranial bone at this spot is called your temporal bone, and your lower jawbone is called your mandible.
If you have a problem caused by your TMJ, it’s called a TMJ disorder. TMJ disorders cover a variety of conditions, including:
- joint disorders such as joint pain, misaligned discs, and bone loss
- muscle disorders such as muscle pain and referred pain
There are many potential causes for TMJ disorders, their severity, and their duration. Let’s take a look at how genetics may play a role.
TMJ vs. TMD
“TMJ” and “TMD” are similar acronyms but have slightly different meanings.
TMJ refers to your temporomandibular joint itself. This joint is just forward of your ears, where your jaw meets your skull. It pivots like a hinge.
TMD stands for temporomandibular joint disorders. Sometimes it’s abbreviated TMJD. This is a group of conditions that affect your TMJ.
In this article, we’ll use “TMJ disorders” to make the meaning clearer.
Researchers found that 112 different genes were significantly associated with TMJ disorders. They reported that certain genetic patterns may cause TMJ disorders.
The complexity of your genes makes it difficult to know exactly how they might cause TMJ disorders. The researchers noted that the same genes could cause many different outcomes depending on your:
- hormone levels
There’s ongoing research to analyze specific genes and how they might cause TMJ disorders. But this research will probably take many years before we know anything definite.
Other researchers are looking for ways to help identify your risk of developing TMJ disorders by looking at your genes or other biomarkers. For example, a 2020 Brazilian study looked for biomarkers of TMJ disorders in saliva.
Still, much more research is needed before we can truly understand how genes may influence the development of TMJ disorders.
Are TMJ disorders hereditary?
While genetics likely play a role in causing TMJ disorders, that doesn’t mean that you necessarily inherit them. A
Experts believe that many different things work together to cause TMJ disorders. Your genes are one of those factors. Others include your medical history, lifestyle, and environmental factors.
Some of the factors that could play a part in causing TMJ disorders
- clenching or grinding teeth
- abnormal posturing
- autoimmune disorders
- displaced TMJ disc (articular disc)
- inflammation or inflammatory diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis)
- traumatic injury
Among the general population, TMJ disorders are the second most common disorder of the musculoskeletal system. It most frequently affects adults ages 20 to 40 years.
A large study, called Orofacial Pain: Prospective Evaluation and Risk Assessment (OPPERA), followed more than 4,300 adults in the United States between 2006 and 2013 to better understand TMJ disorders.
OPPERA found that the risk of TMJ disorders was greater:
- among women, who are four times more likely to have TMJ disorders than men
- among non-Hispanic white people, compared with African American and Hispanic people
- if you’ve had a jaw injury
- if you’re a current or former smoker
One of the most common symptoms of TMJ disorder is pain in the joint itself. You may also feel pain in your jawbone, scalp, or neck. The pain is often more severe when you yawn, chew, swallow, or talk for a long time.
Other common symptoms include feeling your TMJ click, pop, or temporarily get stuck.
You may also experience:
You might experience TMJ disorder symptoms on either side of your head, or both.
When to contact a doctor
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you might find them to be occasionally annoying, or they might be debilitating. If you feel discomfort that distracts from or disrupts your regular activities, it’s best to get it checked out.
TMJ disorders share symptoms with many other conditions, so it’s important to get a proper diagnosis. Only a doctor can diagnose TMJ disorders.
There are many potential causes of TMJ disorders. You can’t completely prevent TMJ disorders, but you can minimize your risk by managing your risk factors.
Psychosocial risk factors, such as depression and anxiety, have many treatments. Working with mental health counselors may help, as well as lifestyle changes such as regular physical activity, a balanced diet, and regular sleep. Medications may also help.
Avoiding certain behaviors, such as teeth clenching, might help prevent TMJ disorders. For this to work, you’ll need to identify not only the behaviors but also what triggers them.
Traumatic injuries can also cause TMJ disorders. Consider wearing protective equipment when engaging in activities that might increase your risk of facial injuries, such as contact sports or recreational activities like riding a bicycle or motorcycle.
TMJ disorders cover many types of conditions. They can be related to your muscles or the components of the joints themselves.
Experts don’t fully understand the causes of TMJ disorders, but they believe that your lifestyle, environment, and biology are all involved.
While the exact mechanisms aren’t yet known, the current consensus is that your genes do play a role. Researchers are still working to figure out exactly which genes could cause TMJ disorders.