Temporomandibular (Jaw) Joint Problems

Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Temporomandibular (Jaw) Joint Problems 


What are they?

The joint between your upper and lower jaws, just in front of your ears is called the temporomandibular joint ('TMJ' for short). Gristly cartilage separates the bone surfaces and sometimes it becomes worn or moves out of place.

  • Example, grinding or clenching your teeth, biting your nails or chewing a pen.
  • Some people get arthritis in the joint
  • If your back teeth are missing, you might eat mainly with your front teeth and disturb the way your jaw bites together.

You might notice several things.

  • Clicking or grating noises when you your jaw.
  • Difficulty opening or closing your mouth.
  • Swelling or tenderness over the joint.
  • Pain in the face, neck and chewing muscles.
  • Headaches or back pain.
  • Pain in your ear, possibly with ringing noises.

What might the dentist do?

Your dentist will try and make your jaw more comfortable and look for the cause of the problem. You could take painkillers or tablets to relax the muscles or the face-muscles might be massaged. You could use an ice pack at home or stress-relieving techniques. Avoid yawning a lot or biting into very hard foods.

If the problem seems to be caused by a habit, the dentist will explain this so you can try giving up the habit.

Other possible solutions might include:

  • Replacing missing teeth with a denture or bridge, or a different denture, to change the way your jaw sits; or
  • A 'biteguard' for you to wear at night which will take pressure off the joint.

Will the treatment work?

Like joint problems in other parts of the body, jaw problems can be difficult to deal with completely. Success will depend on how much the joint has been damaged and on how much more damage can be prevented.