Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Syndrome

Temporomandibular (tem-po-ro-man-DIB-yoo-lar) joint syndrome refers to symptoms caused by problems with the joint that joins the jawbone to the skull.

What Is Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the name for the jaw joint, one of which is located on each side of the head. These joints connect the lower jaw, or mandible (MAN-di-bul), to the temporal (TEM-po-ral) bone, which is one of a pair of bones that form the lower part of the skull. The temporomandibular joint acts as both a hinge and a gliding joint; together the pair of joints allows the jaw to open and close and to slide from side to side.

Temporomandibular joint syndrome refers to cases in which the joints do not function properly. This syndrome may cause pain, difficulty opening and closing the mouth, or problems with chewing and swallowing, as well as other symptoms.

What Are the Causes of Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome?

TMJ syndrome can be caused by dislocated temporomandibular joints or by inherited problems with the joints. In the condition called bruxism (BRUK-siz-um), some people grind their teeth during sleep or times of stress, which can lead to TMJ syndrome. Malocclusion (mal-o-KLOOzhun), when teeth do not fit together properly; whiplash injuries * * are other causes of TMJ syndrome.

Side view of a temporomandibular joint.

Side view of a temporomandibular joint.
Illustration by Frank Forney. © 2016 Cengage Learning®.

What Are the Symptoms of Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome?

Because the TMJ is located near many important nerves going between the brain and many parts of the body, the symptoms can be felt in parts of the body that do not seem related to the TMJ. Millions of Americans report some of the following symptoms:

How Is Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome Diagnosed and Treated?

Doctors or dentists ask the patient to describe the symptoms, and then they examine the patient. Sometimes, x-rays and MRIs * are used to examine the joints to diagnose TMJ syndrome.

Hot compresses and over-the-counter pain medications may help relieve TMJ syndrome. Stress management and mouth guards worn at night can help eliminate teeth grinding and its effects.

See also Arthritis • Headache • Stress and Stress-Related Illness


Books and Articles

Tsai, Vivian. “Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome.” Medscape, March 24, 2015. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/809598-overview (accessed November 17, 2015).


MedlinePlus. “Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction.” U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/temporomandibularjointdysfunction.html (accessed November 17, 2015).

National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. “TMJ Disorders.” http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/oralhealth/Topics/TMJ/TMJDisorders.htm (accessed November 17, 2015).


American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. 9700 West Bryn Mawr Ave., Rosemont, IL 60018-5701. Toll-free: 800-822-6637. Website: http://www.myoms.org (accessed November 17, 2015).

American Dental Association. 211 East Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL 60611-2678. Telephone: 312-440-2500. Website: http://www.ada.org (accessed November 17, 2015).

TMJ Association. PO Box 26770, Milwaukee, WI 53226. Telephone: 262-432-0350. Website: http://www.tmj.org (accessed November 17, 2015).

* whiplash injuries describe general injuries to the spine and spinal cord at the junction of the fourth and fifth vertebrae (VERte-bray) in the neck occurring as a result of rapid acceleration or deceleration of the body.

* arthritis (ar-THRY-tis) refers to any of several disorders characterized by inflammation of the joints.

* MRI, which is short for magnetic resonance imaging, produces computerized images of internal body tissues based on the magnetic properties of atoms within the body.

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.