What is TMJ and How Do I Treat it?

Man with jaw pain

If you are experiencing tooth and facial pain on or near your jaw area, there is a good chance that you have TMJ. Since facial pain can be caused by many factors, it is important to identify the symptoms of TMJ before you seek medical attention. Before you frantically start searching online to try to identify if you have TMJ yourself, read our quick guide below on what TMJ is, the symptoms it can burden you with, the causes behind how someone can get TMJ, and treatment options available to you.

What is TMJ?

TMJ stands for Temporal Mandibular Joint but the phrase is commonly used in reference to a condition affecting the joint. TMJ arises when the hinge connecting your jaws stops functioning properly. This is among the most essential joints in your body and is crucial for the movement of the lower jaw backward, forward, and sideways. Any problem preventing this system of muscles, discs, bones, and ligaments from working is categorized as TMJ. TMJ feels like the jaw is clicking, popping, or stuck. The cause of this kind of misalignment is hard to determine. While some experts associate this condition with genetics and lifestyle, many other factors contribute to TMJ disorder. Some people with this condition tend to grind or clench their teeth. In many cases, the discomfort and pain that comes with this condition is temporary and can be easily relieved with nonsurgical treatments or home remedies. Surgery is normally used when all other methods have failed.

Symptoms of TMJ

TMJ disorders are characterized by many symptoms. The most common symptoms include:

  • Headaches, pain behind your eyes, and earaches
  • Pain when chewing, yawning, or opening your mouth
  • A clicking sound when you close or open your mouth
  • Jaws that lock or get stuck
  • Tender jaw muscles
  • A change in the way the lower and upper teeth fit together

What Causes TMJ?

The American Dental Association reports that over 15% of American adults experience some form of facial pain. Such pain may include headaches, earaches, or jaw pain. TMD is attributed to this facial pain and occurs more in women than in men. TMJ is also common in people aged 20-40 years. The discomfort and pain caused by TMJ may either be temporary or last for a few years. The exact cause of TMD is not clear, however, dentists link the symptoms to problems with the joint or jaw muscles. Some of the possible causes of TMJ include:

  • Injury to the head, neck or jaw
  • Clenching or grinding your teeth
  • Stress- when you are provoked to tighten your jaws or facial muscles
  • Dislocating the disc or soft cushion between the socket and ball
  • Rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis in the TM joints

Home Remedies for TMJ

TMJ home remedies

The home remedies used to treat TMJ involve a strict diet and mineral supplements. Essential oils are also common home remedies for TMJ. The following diet recommendations have proven effective in relieving TMJ:

  • Easy to chew foods- soups, smoothies, stews, or cooked vegetables
  • Wild fish- Omega 3 can help relieve inflammation and pain
  • Small meals- consumption of small meals can help to stabilize your blood sugar. When your blood sugar fluctuates or is inconsistent, you are likely to experience frequent grinding of teeth.
  • Steamed vegetables- Such foods provide essential nutrients for healing
  • Protein shakes- A protein shake is a good alternative for persons who have difficulty chewing protein
  • Foods rich in magnesium- Magnesium is a mineral that relieves tension in muscles and promotes relaxation

The main mineral supplements used to treat TMJ include magnesium and calcium for relaxation of muscles, kava to reduce anxiety, MSM to reduce muscle spasms, and vitamin B complex for relieving stress.

The essential oils used in TMJ treatments include frankincense oil, lavender oil, and peppermint oil. Frankincense is used for reducing inflammation, lavender for relaxing tense muscles, and peppermint for relieving pain.

What are Your Options if Diagnosed with TMJ?

Dentist showing x-ray


  • Anti-inflammatories and pain relievers: If over the counter medication does not help in relieving TMJ pain, your physician may prescribe strong pain relievers. Some of the common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) used for treatment include ibuprofen, Motrin IB, and Advil.
  • Muscle relaxants: These drugs are used for a couple of days or weeks for relieving pain brought by TMJ disorders.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants: Medications like amitriptyline were commonly used for depression but are currently used to relieve pain.


Nondrug treatments for TMJ include:

  • Physical therapy: These may include exercises for stretching and strengthening jaw muscles, moist ice and heat, and ultrasound.
  • Occlusal appliances: In some cases, people suffering from jaw pains are treated by inserting a soft firm device, also called an oral splint, over their teeth.
  • Counseling: Educating and counseling patients is an effective preventive measure. Patients are advised to avoid behaviors that are likely to aggravate pain such as grinding of teeth, biting fingernails, or leaning on their chin.

Surgical Procedures

Oral surgery options include:

  • Arthrocentesis: This is a minimally invasive treatment involving the insertion of small needles into your joint to deliver a fluid that removes inflammatory by products and debris.
  • Injections: In some cases, injections such as corticosteroid and botulinum toxin, is used to relieve pain.
  • TMJ arthroscopy: In an arthroscopic surgery, a thin tube is inserted in the joint space and small surgical instruments are used to perform surgery.
  • Modified condylotomy: This procedure deals with TMJ indirectly. The surgical procedure is performed on the mandible and helps relieve pain and reduce locking.
  • Open joint surgery: Arthrotomy or open joint surgery is a procedure meant to replace or repair the joint. This option is used when all other treatments for TMJ fail.

Alternative Medicine

In some cases, alternative and complementary medicine is used to manage the pain associated with TMJ. Some of the common forms of alternative medicine include:

  • Acupuncture: An acupuncture therapist inserts small needles at specific areas of your body to relieve TMJ pain.
  • Bio-feedback: Electric devices that keep track of the firmness of specific jaw muscles can be used for practicing relaxation techniques.
  • Relaxation techniques: Consciously taking slow, deep, and regular breaths can help ease the tension around your muscles and reduce pain.
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About the Author

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Dr. Joan Landron

Currently serving the community at Absolute Dental since August 2008, Dr. Joan Landron graduated from Temple University School of Dentistry in 1997.

She further honed her skills with a general practice residency at Metropolitan Hospital and underwent specialized training at New York University’s Implant Program for General Practitioners. Specializing in services such as X-rays, examinations, cleanings, crowns, and more, Dr. Landron brings a comprehensive approach to general and cosmetic dentistry, including implants.

A proud member of the American Dental Association, Nevada Dental Association, and Southern Nevada Dental Association, she cherishes her free time by spending moments with family, reading, and maintaining her health through exercise. Dr. Landron takes immense pride in being a part of the Absolute Dental team and is dedicated to her patients at the Absolute Dental – Nellis in Las Vegas, ensuring they receive the best care possible.

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