Cookies on the Bupa website

We use cookies to help us understand ease of use and relevance of content. This ensures that we can give you the best experience on our website. If you continue, we'll assume that you are happy to receive cookies for this purpose. Find out more about cookies


Jaw joint dysfunction

Key points

  • Jaw joint dysfunction is a common problem, affecting about one in six people in the UK.
  • You may have pain, locking of your jaw, a popping or clicking noise when you move your jaw and difficulty chewing.
  • Eating soft foods, stopping grinding your teeth, massage and relaxation techniques can help relieve your symptoms.
  • Most problems can be treated successfully and don't lead to other problems. Surgery for jaw joint dysfunction is rare.

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.

About jaw joint dysfunction

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.

Illustration showing the jaw joint

Symptoms of jaw joint dysfunction

Your symptoms may include:

  • pain, most likely around your jaw joint, but may also be around your cheek, ear and neck
  • restricted movement and locking of your jaw
  • joint noise, such as popping, grating and clicking sounds, when you move your jaw
  • a headache
  • difficulty chewing
  • a change in the way your upper and lower teeth fit together

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.

Causes of jaw joint dysfunction

There are three main causes of jaw joint dysfunction.

  • Myofascial pain is the most common jaw joint dysfunction. It involves pain or discomfort in your muscles or the tissue (myofascia) that surrounds the muscles in your jaw joint.
  • Disc displacement happens when the articular disc (a thin disc within the joint) is in the wrong position, you have dislocated your jaw, or your jaw joint has been injured.
  • Osteoarthritis is a disorder of synovial joints. Rarely, it can affect your jaw joint, but is more common in the knees, hips and small joints of your hand.

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.

Diagnosis of jaw joint dysfunction

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.

Treatment of jaw joint dysfunction

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.

  • Eat soft foods so you don’t have to chew food for too long.
  • Stop wide yawning, singing, chewing gum and biting your nails.
  • Stop any habits, such as clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth.
  • Massage your affected muscles and apply a heat pad, such as a hot water bottle (filled with warm but not boiling water) wrapped in a cloth or towel.
  • Identify sources of stress and use relaxation techniques, such as massage.


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.

Non-surgical treatment

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.

Find out more about our health editors

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.

Share with others

  • 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.

    Approved by Plain English Campaign The Information Standard memberHON Code


Consultant and Facilities Finder

Find Bupa recommended consultants/specialists,
hospitals, care homes and other facilities

Find out more

Bupa dental cover

Bupa Health Finder

Find health information and more while on the move with our free Bupa Health Finder app.

More about the app

Bupa Dental Centres

You don’t need to be a Bupa member to access Bupa’s complete range of dental services.

Find out more