If you have temporomandibular joint disorder, you may experience symptoms like jaw pain, jaw popping and clicking, and headaches. Sometimes, the disorder goes away without treatment. Most people who require treatment find that it resolves symptoms.

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders are a group of disorders affecting your TMJs. These joints consist of small disks of cartilage that connect your temporal bones (the sides of your skull) to your mandible (lower jaw). They allow your mouth to open and close.

TMJ disorders can cause symptoms that affect your jaw, ears, and other parts of your face and head.

Let’s go over the symptoms and medical signs of TMJ disorders, some conditions that may cause similar symptoms, and when to contact a doctor or other healthcare professional.

Most people with a TMJ disorder experience jaw pain, but this pain can radiate to other parts of your face and head.

Common TMJ disorder symptoms include:

TMJ pain may be dull and constant, or it may be a sharp, searing pain that occurs while you’re:

  • chewing
  • swallowing
  • talking
  • yawning

Some possible TMJ disorder signs that a doctor may look for when making a diagnosis include:

  • jaw misalignment, particularly when you open your mouth
  • malocclusion, which is improper alignment of your teeth when you close your jaw
  • limited jaw movement
  • limited mouth opening
  • partial or complete jaw dislocation
  • swelling of your jaw
  • jaw pain or tenderness when touched or manually moved
  • scar tissue around your joints

Certain medical conditions can cause symptoms similar to those of TMJ disorders. A doctor will carry out a physical examination and conduct any necessary tests to rule out these conditions before diagnosing a TMJ disorder.

Conditions causing facial pain

Conditions that commonly cause facial pain include:

Conditions causing mouth pain

Conditions that commonly cause mouth pain include:

Conditions causing headaches

Conditions that commonly cause headaches include:

Conditions causing ear pain and congestion

Conditions that commonly cause ear pain or congestion include:

Consider seeing a doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • pain that interferes with your day-to-day life
  • pain that interrupts your sleep
  • difficulty eating and drinking
  • repeated bouts of pain and discomfort

A doctor can fully examine you and run tests to find the cause of your symptoms.

The first step in treating a TMJ disorder is with conservative treatments. These are effective in around 50–90% of people. Some treatments include:

Additional treatments include:

Learn more about treating TMJ disorders.

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about TMJ disorders.

Do TMJ disorders go away on their own?

Around 40% of people with temporomandibular disorders (TMDs) report that their symptoms go away without medical treatment.

How do you test yourself for TMJ disorders?

There’s no standard self-test for TMJ disorders. But the “three-finger test” can help to identify limited mouth opening (trismus), which can be a symptom of TMJ disorders.

The three-finger test involves placing three stacked fingers between your upper and lower teeth. If your mouth can’t open wide enough to accommodate your fingers, this may indicate trismus. It’s important to note that this test is not a diagnostic tool.

What things can make TMJ disorders worse?

Extreme jaw movements can worsen TMJ disorders. Try to avoid the following if you have a TMD:

  • wide yawning
  • chewing gum
  • singing loudly
  • jaw clenching or teeth grinding
  • stress and anxiety

Symptoms of TMJ disorders may include jaw pain, jaw popping and clicking, and ear pain. Signs of a TMJ disorder that a doctor may look for when making a diagnosis include jaw misalignment, malocclusion, and limited mouth opening.

Doctors typically recommend conservative treatments for TMJ disorders, such as jaw exercises, applying warm compresses, and taking over-the-counter pain relievers. Sometimes, symptoms resolve without the need for medical treatment.