Jaw problems

Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a problem affecting the ‘chewing’ muscles and the joints between the lower jaw and the base of the skull.

Doctors sometimes refer to the condition as “myofascial pain disorder”.

Jaw problems 1 Jaw dysfunction

It’s been estimated that up to 30% of adults will experience TMD at some point in their lives. The condition itself isn’t usually serious, and the symptoms it can cause – including pain, jaw joint clicking or popping, and difficulties eating – usually only last a few months before getting better. However, these symptoms can significantly lower quality of life, and specialist treatment might be required if they’re severe.

What are the symptoms?

TMD can cause:

  • clicking, popping or grating noises as you chew or move your mouth
  • muscle pain around the jaw
  • pain in front of the ear that may spread to the cheek, ear and temple
  • difficulty opening the mouth – the jaw may feel tight, as if it is stuck, making eating difficult
  • headache or migraine
  • earache or a “buzzing” or blocked sensation in the ear
  • pain in other areas of the body – such as neckache or backache

These symptoms may lead to related symptoms, such as disturbed sleep.

What are the causes?

Possible causes of TMD include:

  • clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth during sleep (bruxism) – which overworks the jaw muscles and puts pressure on the joint (often caused by stress)
  • wear and tear of the inside of the jaw joint – usually caused by osteoarthritis
  • injury to the jaw joint – for example, after a blow to the face or surgery
  • stress – some people may inherit increased sensitivity to pain or stress
  • uneven bite – for example, when new fillings, dental crowns or dentures are fitted
  • specific diseases – TMD may be associated with specific diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout or fibromyalgia