What is TMJ?

TMJ is a disorder of the temporomandibular joint, and is a part of TMD, a collective term for a group of musculoskeletal and neuromuscular conditions relating to the masticatory system. 

Let’s back up. What is the masticatory system? The masticatory system involves the teeth, craniofacial structures and muscles, and jaw muscles. TMJ affects the temporomandibular joint which is the hinge between the lower jaw and the temporal bone in your head.


TMDs and TMJs are a major cause of pain in the craniofacial regions, not due to orthodontic reasons. TMJs encompass joint pain including arthritis and arthralgia. The disease is diagnosed primarily through imaging, such as radiographs and ultrasounds. Screening questions also may be asked or a physical assessment may be done in order to determine whether further imaging will be required. The following are sample questions that may be asked.

  • Do you have difficulty with opening your mouth?
  • Do you have pain in or around your ears or your cheeks?
  • Has your bite felt uncomfortable or unusual?
  • Does your jaw lock or go out?
  • Do you hear noises within your jaw joint?


TMJ uses two different types of treatments- irreversible and reversible. 

Reversible treatments include patient education, physical or behavioral therapy, prescription medicine, or occlusal splints. Meanwhile, irreversible treatments include orthodontics, surgery, or occlusal adjustment. It is not yet understood which of the therapies or treatments may be best suitable for the disease. However, many recommend reversible treatments for children and young adolescents. There is also inadequate data regarding irreversible treatments, so it is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry that irreversible treatments be avoided.

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