Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction

The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) connect the lower jaw, or mandible, to the temporal bones at the sides of the head. These joints are flexible, allowing the jaw to move smoothly up and down and side to side, and enabling us to talk, chew, and yawn. TMJ dysfunction involves face pain, clicking sounds in the TMJ, and limited movement of the jaw. About 33 percent of the population has TMJ dysfunction, and as many as 75 percent have some symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms

TMJ dysfunction is often accompanied by the following signs and symptoms.

What Causes It?

The only definitive cause of TMJ dysfunction is a severe injury, such as a heavy blow, to the jaw or temporomandibular joint. Other possible causes include the following.

Who's Most At Risk?

The following risk factors are associated with TMJ dysfunction.

What to Expect at Your Provider's Office

If you are experiencing symptoms associated with TMJ dysfunction, you should see your health care provider. He or she can help make a diagnosis and guide you in determining which treatment or combination of therapies will work best for you.

Your provider will check muscles in the area of the TMJ, look for asymmetry or inflammation in your face, listen for joint clicking or scraping sounds, test your mandibular range of motion, and look for evidence of jaw clenching or teeth grinding. If you're experiencing any neurological symptoms, such as numbness, your provider will give you a neurological examination. Imaging techniques may be used if there is evidence of degenerative disease or disk problems.

Treatment Options


Reducing stress and keeping yourself from grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw may help prevent TMJ dysfunction or lessen the symptoms.

Treatment Plan

Some health care providers consider TMJ dysfunction a medical condition while others consider it a dental problem.

Drug Therapies

Your provider may prescribe the following medications.

Surgical and Other Procedures

When all other measures have failed, surgery may be necessary.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

A comprehensive treatment plan for TMJ dysfunction may include a range of complementary and alternative therapies.

The following nutritional tips may help prevent or reduce symptoms of TMJ dysfunction. Potentially beneficial nutrient supplements include the following.

Essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) to decrease inflammation

Herbs Homeopathy
An experienced homeopath could prescribe a regimen for treating TMJ dysfunction that is designed especially for you. Some of the most common acute remedies are listed below. Acute dose is three to five pellets of 12X to 30C every one to four hours until symptoms are relieved.

Physical Medicine
Contrast hydrotherapy—alternating hot- and cold-water applications—may decrease inflammation, provide pain relief, and enhance healing. Use hot packs and ice wrapped in a washcloth and apply to area. Alternate three minutes hot with one minute cold and repeat three times for one set. Do two to five sets per day.

Very good evidence exists for acupuncture as an alternative treatment for TMJ dysfunction. A number of well-designed trials found that acupuncture can help provide long-term pain relief for this condition. In treating TMJ dysfunction, acupuncturists often find a deficiency of qi in the liver meridian and a relative excess in the gallbladder meridian. In addition to the primary treatment on the liver and the supporting kidney meridians, moxibustion (a technique in which the herb mugwort is burned over specific acupuncture points) may also be used to enhance the needling therapy.

No well-designed studies have evaluated the effect of chiropractic on individuals with TMJ dysfunction, but chiropractors report that manipulation of the TMJ and adjacent areas in the upper spine may improve symptoms of the condition in some individuals. It is believed, in these cases, that manipulation restores movement to the TMJ.

Certain types of massage techniques and chiropractic manipulation may help decrease muscle spasms, provide pain relief, and prevent recurrence of symptoms.

Prognosis/Possible Complications

TMJ dysfunction is treated successfully in 75 percent of patients who follow a multifaceted treatment plan. In rare cases, prolonged teeth clenching or grinding, trauma, infection, or connective tissue disease may result in degenerative joint disease or arthritis. If you experience severe grinding, you may benefit from nighttime use of a bite guard worn inside your mouth.

Following Up

You may need to see your provider regularly to ensure the prescribed therapies are working for you.


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