Jaw joint dysfunction is a group of conditions that can cause joint pain. They can stop your jaw joint and the muscles that control the movement of your jaw from working correctly.
Jaw joint dysfunction problems are also known as temporomandibular disorders (TMJ). Sometimes you may also hear the condition referred to as temporomandibular dysfunction or temporomandibular joint dysfunction. It’s common – around one out of six people in the UK are affected by it.
The medical name for your jaw joint is the temporomandibular joint. It’s located in front of your ear on both sides of your head. The joint allows your jaw bone (mandible) to move from side to side, backwards and forwards, and allows you to open and close your mouth.
Your jaw joint is one of the most complicated joints in your body. It has several muscles and ligaments which allow different movements.
Your symptoms may include:
Your symptoms may be worse when you’re chewing or if you’re feeling stressed.
You may be able to manage these symptoms at home, without seeing your dentist. But if they get worse or don’t improve within a few days, see your dentist for advice.
There are three main causes of jaw joint dysfunction.
It’s possible that you may have more than one of these at the same time.
Injuries can also trigger jaw joint dysfunction, such as a knock to your jaw, or overstretching when yawning, or during dental treatment.
Clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth (bruxism) may cause jaw joint dysfunction. However, many people with jaw joint dysfunction don’t grind their teeth and many people that do grind their teeth, don’t have jaw joint dysfunction. The crucial thing is the symptoms, not the grinding of teeth.
Joint noises, such as clicking, cracking or popping can happen if the articular disc has moved out of its normal position. The disc sometimes slips forward and as it returns to its normal position between the bones of your jaw joint, a noise is made.
Your dentist will ask about your symptoms and examine you. He or she may also ask you about your medical history.
Because your jaw joint is complicated and there are many possible causes of jaw problems, it can be difficult to work out what is causing your symptoms. There’s no one test that can be used to diagnose jaw joint dysfunction.
Your dentist may also examine your head, neck, face and jaw to see if there is any tenderness. You may be asked to move your jaw in all directions to make sure you can move it freely and find out if it’s painful or makes clicking noises when you move it.
Jaw joint dysfunction can often be treated successfully and doesn’t lead to other problems. Your treatment will depend on the type of jaw joint dysfunction you have.
Your dentist may advise you to do one or more of the following.
You may find over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, can help to ease your pain. Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.
There are some other medicines your dentist might suggest if you’re in a lot of pain. See our FAQs for more information about medicines.
If your dentist thinks you’re clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth when you’re asleep, he or she may recommend wearing a bite guard. This is a cover made from plastic that fits over your upper or lower teeth and stops them coming into contact with each other. Evidence for how effective a bite guard is varies, but some people may find it helpful.
These self-help measures will probably ease your discomfort and relieve your symptoms. Most jaw joint problems are only temporary and don’t get worse. However, if your symptoms last for longer than four to six weeks, your dentist may refer you to a specialist. This could be an oral surgeon or a specialist jaw joint dysfunction dentist.
There are other treatments that may be helpful, such as physiotherapy. See our FAQs for more information.
Surgery for jaw joint dysfunction is very rare and may be offered if other non-surgical treatments have been tried but haven’t worked. Surgery may involve opening your jaw joint and operating on the bones, cartilages and ligaments. It’s important to discuss the risks and benefits of surgery with your oral surgeon.
Reviewed by Natalie Heaton, Bupa Health Information Team, May 2014.
To find a consultant or therapist in your area who can help you, please visit
For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.
For sources and links to further information, see Resources.
This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.
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