If you suffer from pain or stiffness in the jaw, neck, or ears, you could have TMJ disorder. A TMJ pain treatment approach includes a number of methods, incorporating everything from at-home care to more interventional techniques, like physical therapy, medications, mouth guards, or even surgery.

What causes TMJ pain?

You may hear TMJ referred to in a number of ways. The letters “TMJ” themselves abbreviate “TemporoMandibular Joint” but have often been used to refer to disorders in this region of the jaw. Technically TMJ disorder or TMD is the more correct way to refer to this condition.

No matter what it’s called, TMJ/TMD refers to a disorder of the jaw muscles or joint. Your jaw connects to your skull with a ball and socket joint. Within this sits just a small disc of cartilage that cushions the load. This joint allows you talk freely, eat, and open your mouth. But, since it’s used so frequently, it’s vulnerable to constant wear and tear. This stress can lead to damage, swelling, and other abnormalities at the joint juncture.

This damage can cause TMJ symptoms, which include:

  • Pain and soreness in the jaw, head, neck, shoulders, or ears
  • Clicking, grinding, or popping sensations when you open and close your jaw
  • Locked jaw
  • Swelling in the jaw and face
  • A suddenly uncomfortable bite that feels “misaligned”
  • Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears
  • Toothaches

Common causes of TMJ pain include:

  • Trauma to the mouth or jaw
  • Excessive teeth grinding, or bruxism
  • Improper bite
  • Excessive gum chewing
  • Arthritis
  • Stress

TMJ is more often found in women, especially those between the ages of 18-44. Genetics play a small role in TMJ risk, as does accompanying pain conditions. For example, people with fibromyalgia and sleep apnea experience a greater incidence of TMJ pain.

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What can I do for TMJ pain?

If you suffer from TMJ pain, you’ve likely lived for a long time with clicking while eating or an achy jaw when you wake up in the morning. Your pain may flare up during higher stress times, or it may become worse during winter. Or, for others, it might have come on suddenly.

No matter how TMJ affects you, there are ways to manage it. Often symptoms will gradually disappear on their own.

TMJ pain treatment ranges from at-home care to surgery for severe cases. For most patients, at-home care with some gentle stretching can significantly help relieve pain and reduce symptoms. If you’re suffering from moderate to severe pain, however, it’s important to talk to a TMJ specialist before attempting any of these treatments. They can diagnose the exact cause of your pain, and suggest personalized treatment options.

Diagnosing TMJ pain 

Since they spend the most time in your mouth, typically a TMJ dentist will diagnose your condition. She’ll perform a physical exam, checking for pain, tenderne