Understanding TMJ Dysfunction

A dentist with more than 20 years of experience, Dr. Azadeh Khajavi has operated her own private practice since 1994. After completing dental school, Dr. Azadeh “Amy” Khajavi pursued extensive postgraduate training, including a fellowship focusing on the treatment of TMJ disorder.

TMJ stands for “temporomandibular joints,” which are the joints that hold the lower jaw in place. Attached to the skull in front of each ear, the TMJs control all jaw movement. When they experience injury, stress, or misalignment, these joints become inflamed and painful. Besides pain, symptoms of TMJ dysfunction can include jaw stiffness, jaw locking, changes in how the upper and lower teeth meet, and a clicking or popping sound when opening the mouth.

The cause of TMJ disorder isn’t always clear. A misalignment of the jaw, whether due to genetics or injury, can cause this condition. People who grind or clench their teeth are also at risk of developing the condition because of the added strain those actions place on the joint. Arthritis of the jaw joints may also cause TMJ dysfunction.

Regardless of the cause of TMJ disorder, many times symptoms can be alleviated with noninvasive treatments, such as practicing relaxation techniques, taking pain-relieving medications, and applying ice packs. Some patients can benefit from short-term use of a splint or night guard to keep the jaws in alignment and protect the teeth from the effects of clenching. On occasion, dental work such as implants or orthodontics may be recommended.