Causes of Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Dysfunction
by Ron Kurtus (revised 22 February 2012)
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction can be caused by an injury such as a blow to the jaw, malocclusion (teeth that don't fit together properly), or extreme stress due to constant jaw clenching, teeth grinding and even eating improperly.
Even though this joint receives a fair amount of use during the daily chewing of food, these items result in excessive stress on the joint. This can result in jaw clicking, headaches, sinus problems, and even loss of hearing.
Questions you may have include:
- What sort of injury can cause TMJ?
- Why is malocclusion a problem?
- How does teeth clenching cause problems?
This lesson will answer those questions. Health Disclaimer
Although rare, an injury caused by a blow to the jaw may damage the TMJ, causing problems with the joint. There was a recent case of a television actress who was punched by her rock-star husband, knocking her jaw out of alignment and causing her to suffer TMJ damage.
A person may also receive a blow to the ear and lose some hearing in that ear. Thinking that the loss is an ear problem, the person may seek help from an ear doctor. But since the ear is so close to the TMJ, the real problem was injury to the joint, which in turn caused inflammation in the hearing mechanism. This type of problem is often difficult to diagnose, because the ear doctor is looking at the wrong problem. Usually a dentist or TMJ specialist can provide the needed relief.
Sometimes an injury elsewhere--such as the neck in a whiplash injury--may cause the jaw muscles to constantly put strain on the TMJ
Malocclusion is when the teeth don't fit together properly, resulting in an unnatural bite that you may not even notice. It can be caused by teeth wearing, by improper dental work of even ill-fitting dentures.
Dentures that no longer fit properly can cause the bite to be misaligned, thus causing stress on the TJM. Also you may have formed a habit chewing in an unnatural manner, causing strain on the TMJ.
When teeth don't fit together properly, the muscles must compensate for this poor fit. This added muscle tension can cause pain and various symptoms of TMJ disorder. Although this misaligned bite or malocclusion of the jaw can cause TMJ, it can also get worse from the TMJ.
Clenching, grinding and chewing
The amount that you tighten your jaw muscles can cause a strain on the TMJ. It is a joint that is used very much, and continuous pressure and strain can also result in inflammation. Besides that, the jaw muscles themselves may become inflamed and affect nearby areas.
Stress can cause you to clench your jaw and grind your teeth. Sometimes it is simply a bad habit. Often teeth grinding is done during sleep. Also, sleeping on your stomach can result in unconsciously clenching your teeth.
Over a period of time, the muscles that control the temporomandibular joints develop nodules or "trigger points" that produce the symptoms when aggravated.
Clenching and grinding of the teeth--both of which may be TMJ symptoms--produce muscle pain, which can cause headache pain. Also, a displaced disc in the TMJ may cause pain in the joint, which is often referred into the temples, forehead or neck. These headaches are frequently so severe that they are confused and treated for migraine headaches or abnormalities in the brain.
If you put an too much food in your mouth when eating, the chewing process can cause excess strain on the TMJ. Eating like that all the time can result in TMJ problems.
Also crunching down on hard candy and other hard or difficult-to-chew food can put an unnecessary burden on the TMJ. It may also result in broken or damaged teeth. This is especially true if the teeth have been weakened by decay or fillings.
TMJ problems can be caused by an injury such as a blow to the jaw. Teeth that don't fit together properly can also result in a strain on the TMJ. Extreme stress due to constant jaw clenching, teeth grinding and even eating improperly is a major cause of TMJ dysfunction.
The symptoms can be jaw clicking, headaches, sinus problems, and even loss of hearing.
Look for the source of your problems
Resources and references
TMJ Disorder - HearNet.com
Symptoms of TMJ - HealthCentral.com
Taking Control of TMJ by Robert O. Uppgaard DDS, New Harbinger Publications (1999) $14.95
Don't Sweat the Small Stuff and It's All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson, Hyperion (1997) $14.95 - Classic best-seller on simple ways to keep the little things from taking over your life
Eliminate TMJ and Teeth Grinding (Audio CD) by Scott Sulak, Change For Good (2003) $15.95
SleepRight Adjustable Night Guard from Splintek-PPI (2004) $69.95
Questions and comments
Do you have any questions, comments, or opinions on this subject? If so, send an email with your feedback. I will try to get back to you as soon as possible.
Click on a button to bookmark or share this page through Twitter, Facebook, email, or other services:
Students and researchers
The Web address of this page is:
Please include it as a link on your website or as a reference in your report, document, or thesis.
Where are you now?
Causes of Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Dysfunction