Why does my jaw hurt? We explore TMJ disorder…

If you find it difficult to open your jaw, experience clicking and popping or misaligned teeth, you might have TMJ disorder. But what is it?


At Number 18 Dental, we see a fair few patients who are convinced they have something wrong with their teeth when in actual fact they’re experiencing pain associated with their temporomandibular joint (TMJ).

The TMJ works like a hinge, which connects your jawbone to your skull. If you experience difficulty with this chewing muscle then you’ll notice pain anywhere from around your jaw joint right up into your temples.

What are the symptoms of TMJ disorder?

It’s thought that one in six Brits suffers from jaw problems, with the condition affecting more women than men. So what are the signs you’ve got TMJ disorder?

  • Feeling of tightness or throbbing pain around your jaw, ear and temple
  • Aching facial pain or feeling painful to the touch
  • Difficulty opening your mouth fully, or even a locked jaw
  • Frequent popping or clicking noises when you yawn, speak or eat
  • Headache, often around the front of the head and temples
  • Pain when chewing, upon waking, or during times of stress

What causes TMJ disorder?

The temporomandibular joint features different parts which are sheathed in cartilage. Between them is a disc that absorbs any shock. When this erodes or is moved out of place it causes the pain known as TMJ disorder. Reasons it can erode include:

  • The disc moving out of alignment
  • Misaligned teeth
  • Stress
  • Genetic disposition
  • Certain kinds of arthritis which erode the cartilage (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis)
  • Trauma or injury to the jaw
  • Bruxism (jaw clenching or teeth grinding)
  • Problems with your connective tissue

How long does TMJ pain last?

Most people with TMJ disorder might only experience the pain temporarily and find that it gets better on its own, while others might find it is recurrent or gets worse. The pain can be managed but in extreme cases, surgery might be required if all other measures haven’t been successful.

How can you treat TMJ pain?

Some steps you can take to calm TMJ pain include:

  • Massaging the area (there are various videos online for TMJ relief)
  • Jaw exercises
  • Meditation to relieve stress
  • Alternating heat and ice packs interspersed with massaging the joint
  • Pain relief such as paracetamol and ibuprofen
  • Eating soft foods that don’t take much chewing

It’s a good idea to avoid:

  • Chewing tough foods, like meats, breads, rinds, toffees and gums, as well as other objects (such as nails and pencils)
  • Stressful situations (or not taking regular opportunities to relax)
  • Biting food using your front teeth
  • Yawing wide (try to restrict your jaw movement)
  • Clenching your teeth or jaw when resting – try to ensure you can always run your tongue between your teeth
  • Supporting your chin on your hand

What to do if you have TMJ pain

If you think you have TMJ disorder, it’s important to speak to your dentist. They will check your mouth to rule out any other dental problems. If your jaw problems seem to be caused by misalignment, they might suggest teeth straightening using braces or aligners. If it is caused by grinding, they may create a mouth guard for you that you can wear at night.

It’s important to monitor the severity of your TMJ pain. If you find you’re not able to eat or drink, sleep, or the pain and discomfort affect the quality of your life, you may require medical intervention. Your dentist and GP will be able to advise on this, whether it is a referral for counselling to manage stress, or for medical treatments such as strong painkillers, injections or surgery.

If you’re experiencing jaw pain, book an appointment with our Notting Hill dental team at Number 18 Dental today and get relief and peace of mind.

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