The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) acts like a sliding hinge, connecting your jawbone to your skull. TMJ disorders can cause pain in your jaw joint and in the muscles that control jaw movement. The TMJ connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the skull (temporal bone) in front of the ear. Certain facial muscles control chewing. Problems in this area can cause head and neck pain, facial pain, ear pain, headaches, a jaw that is locked in position or difficult to open, problems biting, and jaw clicking or popping sounds when you bite.
The cause of a person’s TMJ disorder is often difficult to determine. Your pain may be due to a combination of problems, such as arthritis or jaw injury. Some people who have jaw pain also tend to clench or grind their teeth, but many people habitually clench their teeth and never develop TMJ disorders.
In most cases, the pain and discomfort associated with TMJ disorders can be alleviated with self-managed care or nonsurgical treatments. Some cases of severe TMJ disorders may require surgical repair.
Signs and symptoms of TMJ disorders may include:
Pain in the facial muscles and jaw joints may radiate to the neck or shoulders. Joints may be overstretched. You may experience muscle spasms from TMJ syndrome. You may feel pain every time you talk, chew, or yawn. Pain usually appears in the joint itself, in front of the ear, but it may move elsewhere in the skull, face, or jaw and lead to headaches, dizziness, and even migraines.
TMJ syndrome may cause ear pain, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and hearing loss. Sometimes people mistake TMJ pain for an ear problem, such as an ear infection, when the ear is not the problem at all.
When the joints move, you may hear sounds, such as clicking, grating, and/or popping. Others may also be able to hear the sounds. Clicking and popping are common. This means the disc may be in an abnormal position.
Your face and mouth may swell on the affected side.
The jaw may lock wide open (then it is dislocated), or it may not open fully at all. Also, upon opening, the lower jaw may deviate to one side. You may find yourself favoring one painful side or the other by opening your jaw awkwardly. These changes could be sudden. Your teeth may not fit properly together, and your bite may feel odd.
You may have trouble swallowing because of the muscle spasms.
Headache and dizziness may be caused by TMJ syndrome. You may feel nauseous or vomit.