What is temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder (TMJ)?

Any problem that prevents the complex TM joint system of muscles, ligaments, discs and bones from working properly may result in a painful TMJ disorder. 

Two joints and several jaw muscles make it possible to open and close the mouth. They work together when you chew, speak or swallow. They include muscles and ligaments, as well as the jaw bone -- the mandible (lower jaw) with two joints called the temporomandibular joints or “TMJ.” The TM joints are among the most complex joints in the body.

Common symptoms include pain in or around the ear, tenderness of the jaw, clicking or popping noises when opening the mouth, or headaches and neck pain.
Dustin S. Burleson, DDS
Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics
The pain and disorders that people experience with the TMJ often happen between the ages of 20 to 40, are more common in women than in men, and can be the source of extreme pain and discomfort.

The pains that people often feel that are associated with TMJ can be pain in the face, earaches, headaches, clicking or popping sounds when opening and closing the mouth, and tenderness of the jaw. Those clicking and popping sounds that the jaw may make are not always accompanied by pain; sometimes the noises are there, but there is no discomfort present. In addition, people may have difficulty chewing, biting, or being able to open their mouth. Some people may experience a feeling of their jaw being locked or stuck in the open or closed position.

TMJ problems, according to the National Institutes of Health, are brought on by certain structures being stressed. Those structures include the muscles of the neck, face and jaw, nearby ligaments and blood vessels, teeth, and the cartilage disk located at the joint.

Even though stress to these areas is believed to be a cause for many of the TMJ cases that are identified, there are still many other cases where a cause has not been identified. Some people believe there are additional factors that contribute to TMJ, even though they have not been proven, including a bad bite, tooth grinding, and poor posture while sitting at the computer.

In addition, there are factors that are believed to make TMJ worse, such as not getting enough sleep, having a poor diet, and being stressed out.

For more information on jaw joint pain, visit the American Academy of Orofacial Pain at
Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder (TMJ) is a common condition of the jaw and face. TMJ affects your ability to eat, speak, and move your head and causes pain or discomfort for a brief time or years. Symptoms of TMJ include:
  • pain and tenderness in the face, neck, jaw, shoulders, and around your ears
  • locked jaw
  • trouble speaking
  • headaches, toothaches, and earaches
  • dizziness
  • clicking and popping of the jaw
  • stiffness
Talk to your dentist or an ear, nose, and throat specialist about TMJ.
Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders are collectively referred to as TMJ or TMD. The most common abbreviation is TMJ. They are a collection of disorders that cause facial pain and result from improper working of the temporomandibular joints (the joints that connect the mandible -- jaw -- to the temporal bones of the skull) and the muscles of the jaw. The temporomandibular joint has a wide range of motion in that it can move side to side, backward and forward, as well as up and down. It is one of the more complex joints in the body. TMJ typically results pain and tenderness, clicking or popping noises upon opening the mouth, neck pain, or headaches.

Continue Learning about Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ)

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.