Spotting the Warning Signs of TMJ Disorders

Imagine that you can’t chew or talk because your jaw hurts, or it’s so stiff you can’t open your mouth properly. That’s the challenge facing an estimated 15% of Americans with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders.

We encourage you to schedule an appointment at Glow Orthodontics at the earliest signs of a TMJ disorder for two reasons. For starters, we can reduce your pain and help restore normal jaw movement. It’s also important to begin treatment as soon as possible to prevent the underlying problem from getting worse.

If you aren’t sure you need orthodontic care, give us a call, so we can learn about your symptoms and help you decide the next best step.

What you should know about TMJ disorders

Your TMJ joints connect each side of your lower jaw to your skull. They may not seem all that remarkable, but the TMJs are one of the most complex joints in your body.

The TMJs open and close your mouth. They also allow side-to-side motion and move your jaw forward and backward. Their range of motion combined with the pressure of chewing, and the extended use of your jaw when talking places incredible stress on the joints. As a result, they’re susceptible to a group of problems called TMJ disorders.

Causes of TMJ disorders

TMJ disorders can affect the bone, cartilage, disc, nerves, or muscles that form your two TMJ joints. The primary causes are:

Myofascial pain syndrome

The most common type of TMJ disorder, myofascial pain syndrome refers to pain and tightness in the muscles controlling the jaw. The pain is often due to muscle overuse and tension brought on by problems such as:

  • Missing teeth
  • Misalignment of upper and lower teeth
  • Teeth grinding while you sleep
  • Jaw clenching while you sleep
  • Injury to your head or neck

Internal joint derangement

In this type of TMJ disorder, the problem lies in the joint. In many cases, the cushioning disc between the jaw bone and skull moves out of place. Internal derangement may also occur due to problems such as a dislocated jaw or an injury.


Like other joints in your body, the TMJs can develop osteoarthritis, infectious arthritis, and inflammatory degeneration.


Ankylosis is a condition in which the TMJ becomes stiff and immobile when the bones fuse or calcium deposits build up in the ligaments. TMJ ankylosis typically results from an infection or injury.


The joint can become too loose when its supporting ligaments are stretched. This could happen from joint dislocation, a blow to your jaw, or even from opening your mouth too wide.

Early signs of TMJ disorders

Since there are many causes of TMJ disorders, there is also a wide range of symptoms. The earliest signs of one type may differ from another type, so it helps to be familiar with the full list of possible symptoms.

As a group, the earliest signs of TMJ disorders often include:

  • Clicking or popping noises when you open and close your mouth
  • A dull ache in the muscles around your jaw
  • Pain or tenderness in the jaw joint
  • Pain in the joint that gets worse throughout the day

Jaw noises such as clicking or popping are common and don’t always signal a TMJ disorder. But if you start to develop pain in addition to jaw noises, there’s a good chance it’s a sign of a TMJ problem.

You may also experience:

  • Difficulty chewing
  • Pain while chewing
  • Pain in your facial muscles
  • Pain around your ears
  • Sharp pain due to muscle spasms
  • Frequent tension-type headaches
  • Change in the way your upper and lower teeth fit together
  • Pain in the neck and shoulder when you talk or chew
  • Jaw locked in an open or shut position
  • Trouble opening your mouth all the way
  • Grating sensation when moving your jaw

Depending on the cause and severity of your TMJ disorder, your symptoms may go away in a few days. When your pain persists or you can’t open or close your jaw normally, it’s important to schedule an evaluation, so that we can accurately diagnose the problem and recommend the best course of treatment before you develop complications.

If you have any questions about jaw pain or stiffness, call Glow Orthodontics, or schedule an appointment.

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