Temporomandibular joint disorder: explained

Written by: Professor Piet Haers
Edited by: Aoife Maguire

Temporomandibular joint disorder, commonly known as TMJ, is a condition that affects the joints connecting your jawbone to your skull. These joints, situated in front of each ear, enable you to perform essential tasks like chewing, speaking, and yawning. When they malfunction, it can lead to discomfort and difficulty in daily activities.


Leading consultant oral and maxillofacial surgeon Professor Piet Haers explores the condition, explaining its causes, diagnosis and treatment options.



What Causes temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)?


Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) disorder can arise from various factors, including:


Trauma: A direct blow to the jaw or a whiplash injury can damage the temporomandibular joint.


Bruxism: Habitual teeth grinding or clenching can strain the jaw muscles and joints.


Arthritis: Conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can affect the joints, including those in the jaw.


Malocclusion: Misalignment of the teeth or jaw can put undue stress on the temporomandibular joint.


Stress: Emotional or psychological stress may cause individuals to clench their jaw muscles involuntarily, contributing to TMJ symptoms.



Recognising TMJ Symptoms


Patients with TMJ disorder often experience the following symptoms:


Pain: Persistent pain or tenderness in the jaw joint area, face, neck, or shoulders.


Limited jaw movement: Difficulty or discomfort while chewing, speaking, or opening the mouth wide.


Clicking or popping: Audible sounds or sensations when moving the jaw, such as clicking, popping, or grating noises.


Muscle stiffness: Stiffness in the jaw muscles, particularly upon waking up in the morning.


Headaches: Recurring headaches, often resembling tension headaches, may accompany TMJ disorder.



Diagnosis and treatment


If you suspect you have TMJ disorder, it is crucial to seek evaluation from a healthcare professional. Diagnosis typically involves a thorough examination of your jaw joint, dental occlusion, and associated muscles. In some cases, imaging tests like X-rays or MRI scans may be necessary to assess the extent of joint damage.


Treatment for TMJ disorder aims to alleviate symptoms and improve jaw function. Depending on the severity and underlying cause of the condition, treatment options may include:


Self-care measures: Practising relaxation techniques, avoiding hard or chewy foods, and applying ice packs can provide temporary relief.


Medications: Pain relievers, muscle relaxants, or anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed to manage symptoms.


Dental treatments: Dental interventions such as orthodontic treatment, bite adjustments, or the use of oral splints or mouthguards can help realign the jaw and alleviate pressure on the temporomandibular joint.


Physical therapy: Exercises to stretch and strengthen the jaw muscles, along with techniques like massage or ultrasound therapy, may improve jaw mobility and reduce pain.


Surgery: In severe cases of TMJ disorder resistant to conservative treatments, surgical options such as arthroscopy or joint replacement may be considered.


Seeking relief


If you're experiencing symptoms suggestive of TMJ disorder, don't hesitate to consult with an oral and maxillofacial specialist. Early diagnosis and appropriate management can help alleviate discomfort and restore normal jaw function, allowing you to resume your daily activities with ease.





If you are concerned about TMJ disorder, do not hesitate to book a consultation with Professor Haers today.

By Professor Piet Haers
Oral & maxillofacial surgery

Professor Piet Haers is a leading consultant oral and maxillofacial surgeon based in London and Guildford. He is expert in all areas of oral surgery including cleft palate and orthognathic surgery. Additionally, he specialises in dental implants and the treatment of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) and obstructive sleep apnoea.

Professor Haers obtained degrees in both dentistry and medicine from the University of Leuven, Belgium before beginning specialist training in Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland. He also served as assistant professor in the department of cranio-maxillofacial and oral surgery at Zurich’s University Hospital from 1991 to 1999. He has been based in the UK since 1999 working as a consultant oral and maxillofacial surgeon at the Royal Surrey County Hospital. Professor Haers was also consultant surgeon and clinical director of the South Thames Cleft Service based at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital. He currently sees patients in private practice at The Harley Street Clinic, Nuffield Health Guildford Hospital and The Portland Hospital.

Professor Haers is a renowned expert in his field and has held a number of senior positions throughout his esteemed career. He is a past board member and past president of the International Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons

Professor Haers has an extensive portfolio of academic publications and book chapter contributions and additionally served for over ten years as editor in chief for the International Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. He is regularly invited to present at national and international meetings of fellow colleagues to share his expertise. He has been a faculty member of the Royal College of Surgeons’ FGDP specialist dental implant diploma course since 2005 and was an honorary visiting professor at the University of Surrey’s Postgraduate Medical School.

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