What Causes TMJ and How Can I Fix It?

Do you feel pain and tenderness around your jaw joints? Is it difficult to eat certain foods or to even yawn? You may be suffering from TMJ/TMD. The cause of TMJ and TMD is different for each person who suffers from it, which means there is no single cookie-cutter treatment method for TMJ. Instead, understanding the root cause of an individual’s TMJ will help give them the proper treatment they need. Keep reading to learn more about why you may have TMJ, the most common causes of TMJ, and how to get TMJ treatment to stop the pain.

What is TMJ?

Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) are disorders of the jaw muscles, temporomandibular joints, and nerves linked to chronic facial pain. Any problem that prevents the complex system of muscles, bones, and joints from working together in harmony may result in temporomandibular disorder.

The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are the two joints that connect your lower jaw to your skull. More specifically, they are the joints that slide and rotate in front of each ear. They include the lower jaw (mandible) and the temporal bone (the side and base of the skull). The TMJs are among the most complex joints in the body. These joints, along with several muscles, allow the mandible to move up and down, side to side, and forward and back. When the mandible and the joints are correctly aligned, smooth muscle actions can take place. These include chewing, talking, yawning, and swallowing. When these structures (muscles, ligaments, disk, jaw bone, temporal bone) are not aligned, they don’t move well together. This may cause several problems to occur.

Risk Factors of TMJ

As mentioned, there is no single cause of TMJ, and each person has a different treatment plan, root cause, and road to recovery. However, there are certain factors that can put some people at a higher risk of developing TMJ than others. Some risk factors of TMJ include:

  • Frequent jaw clenching
  • Frequent teeth grinding
  • Chewing gum
  • Nail biting
  • Eating hard foods frequently
  • Age
  • Gender (women are at a higher risk than men)
  • Family history of TMJ
  • Certain medical conditions, such as arthritis, sleep apnea, and fibromyalgia

Most Common Causes of TMJ

TMJ is a complicated medical condition because it affects each and every person differently. It is important to seek help from a TMJ treatment specialist to help properly diagnose you and curate your individualized treatment plan. Many of the most common causes of TMJ are almost impossible to know because the patient is completely unaware it is happening. The most common causes of TMJ include bruxism, injury, arthritis, malocclusion, and stress.


Bruxism is a condition where a person grinds, clenches, or gnashes his or her teeth; it can occur when awake or asleep. Bruxism that happens while a person is awake is more common, but bruxism that happens during sleep has been studied more. Children, as well as adults, can have this condition. Many cases of bruxism are mild and may not require treatment; however, severe bruxism can lead to damaged teeth, jaw pain or tiredness, and headache.

The tricky thing about bruxism is that most people are unaware that they are doing it. Bruxism can quickly lead to pain and tenderness in the jaw, jaw tightness, jaw muscles feeling tired, headaches, and other facial pain. Other key indicators of bruxism include:

  • Flattened, chipped, cracked, or loose teeth
  • Worn tooth enamel, exposing the inner layers of the tooth
  • Tooth pain or sensitivity

If you think you may be suffering tom bruxism as the cause of your TMJ, it is important to make an appointment with your dentist. They can let you know whether you have the signs of bruxism, and this information can help your journey to TMJ treatment and recovery.


Another common cause of TMJ is injury. Any kind of trauma that has impacted your head or neck can lead to TMJ since the muscles are so small and delicate. Some examples of injuries that can lead to TMJ include:

  • Whiplash
  • Blow to the head
  • Trauma to the neck or head

Injury can cause your jaw to become misaligned, which quickly leads to TMJ issues. If you start experiencing headaches or migraines, jaw pain, jaw clicking, pain in your neck or shoulders, earaches, facial pain, poor posture, or tinnitus after your injury, you may be developing a TMJ/TMD issue. Before your TMJ issues worsen, which they will, it is essential that you seek TMJ treatment from a specialist in order to recover properly from your injury.


According to the Merck Manual, the TMJ may be affected by osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease), usually in people > 50 years. Occasionally, patients complain of stiffness, a grating sound on jaw movement, or mild pain. Crepitus may result from disk degeneration or perforation, causing the bone to grate on bone.

Joint involvement is generally bilateral. X-rays or cone beam CT may show flattening (eg, subchondral cysts, erosions, and lipping of the condyle, suggestive of dysfunctional change, most likely due to excessive loading of the joint). Treatment is symptomatic. An oral appliance (mouth guard) worn during sleep (and possibly while awake) may help alleviate pain and reduce grating sounds.

Secondary degenerative arthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis may also affect the TMJ muscles. These are usually accompanied by a history of trauma, pain, swelling, and a previous diagnosis of arthritis.


Occlusion refers to how your teeth fit together, also known as your bite. Malocclusion refers to when the bite does not line up properly. According to Mount Sinai, malocclusion is most often hereditary. This means it is passed down through families. It may be caused by a difference between the size of the upper and lower jaws or between the jaw and tooth size. It causes tooth overcrowding or abnormal bite patterns. The shape of the jaws or birth defects such as cleft lip and palate may also be reasons for malocclusion. Causes include:

  • Childhood habits such as thumb sucking, tongue thrusting, pacifier use beyond age 3, and prolonged use of a bottle
  • Extra teeth, lost teeth, impacted teeth, or abnormally shaped teeth
  • Ill-fitting dental fillings, crowns, dental appliances, retainers, or braces
  • Misalignment of jaw fractures after a severe injury
  • Tumors of the mouth and jaw

What’s the big deal with a misaligned bite? Malocclusion is important, as it can impact many other parts of an individual’s life. It can change the appearance of the face, cause difficulty chewing or swallowing, cause speech issues, and, most importantly, lead to mouth breathing.

Mouth breathing can quickly lead to sleep apnea and is a dangerous condition that should not be overlooked. If you, your child, or your loved one suffers from mouth breathing, it is essential to seek treatment right away. Mouth breathing can lead to issues such as sleep apnea, daytime drowsiness, difficulty focusing, and many more.


Can stress trigger TMJ symptoms? Absolutely! So much so that it is one of the most common causes of TMJ symptoms. This is because when we become stressed, tension builds in our jaws. The muscles of the jaw become stimulated, and this can cause issues over time when an individual is stressed for a prolonged period of time.

If your TMJ is caused by stress, some lifestyle changes you can make include:

  • Know your stressors. What triggers you? Are you having a difficult time at work, with family, or both? First and foremost, knowing what triggers your stress will be the guidebook in helping you deal with your stress. Learning how to overcome your triggers and stay calm in tense situations are important skills to learn.
  • Practice self-care. Make sure you are eating healthy, well-balanced meals, staying active, and practicing self-care in whatever way works best for you. This can include going on vacation or even something as simple as watching your favorite funny movie at the end of a long day.
  • Set reminders throughout the day. If your stress is difficult to overcome or avoid, set reminders on your phone throughout the day to check your stress level. This can mean literally setting alarms on your phone to take a quick walk, relax your shoulders, take a deep breath, and unclench that jaw.

TMJ Treatment with Gorman Health and Wellness

Are you experiencing TMJ and are unsure of the cause?

Martin N. Gorman, D.D.S., is a highly trained practitioner with over 40 years of experience in dentistry. He specializes in the treatment of temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD), sleep disorders, and epigenetic orthodontics. He believes all of his patients should have an opportunity to achieve optimal dental health in a safe, caring, anxiety-free environment. He is committed to patient comfort.

As a bioesthetic trained dentist, Dr. Gorman recognizes that successful and predictable esthetic dentistry must be functional and in harmony with all parts of the chewing system. Dr. Gorman has been uniquely trained to accurately diagnose problems with the chewing system and provide the most conservative dental therapies necessary to correct the underlying causes of tooth wear—not just the symptoms. Our state-of-the-art technology, paired with Dr. Gorman’s experience with sleep disorders, allows him to find the most effective treatment plan for each individual’s particular case.

“I have been helping people suffering from Sleep Apnea with a non-invasive, clinically approved treatment method. This method has allowed my patients to sleep with far fewer events per hour, allowing them to get rid of their CPAP and BiPAP machines. Imagine not having to use one of those machines, getting back a much greater quality of life along with the benefits of being able to breathe better.” – Dr. Gorman.

For more information on Dr. Gorman, how to get TMJ treatment and more information on what may be causing your TMJ symptoms, contact us today.

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