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Understanding Disorders of the Jaw

The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are the two joints that connect your jaw to your skull. More specifically, they are the joints that slide and rotate in front of each ear. They include the mandible (the lower jaw) and the temporal bone (the side and base of the skull). When the mandible and the joints are properly aligned, a smooth muscle action, such as chewing, can take place. When the joints are not lined up properly, the result may be a TMJ disorder.

Signs of a TMJ Disorder?

TMJ disorders can cause a variety of signs and symptoms. This includes:

  • Chronic pain in the jaw muscles

  • A stiff jaw

  • Jaw “locking”

  • Painful clicking or popping when moving the jaw

  • A change in how the upper and lower teeth fit together

What Causes TMJ Problems?

In many people, dental experts aren’t sure what causes TMJ disorders. While stress may play a role, many cases of jaw problems come about for no apparent reason. Pain from existing medical conditions may overlap with and cause increased risk of TMJ pain.

“TMJ Disorders.” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health, January 2013. Accessed 2013.

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