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TMD Pain and What You Can Do

Like many of our other body parts, we don’t realize how important the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is until it stops working properly.  This unique joint allows your jaw to open and close and to move back and forth and side to side.  When problems with the TMJ arise, called Temporomandibular  Joint Disorder - or TMD symptoms can range from being a simple nuisance to incapacitating, affecting your ability to speak, eat, chew and sleep.

Here is some information that may help if you are experiencing TMD:

Symptoms of TMD

Pain, particularly in the jaw joint, is the most common symptom of TMD.  People with TMD may also experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Unusual sounds — Clicking, grinding or popping sounds when you open your mouth are common in people with TMD. The sounds may or may not be accompanied by pain.

  • Locking or limited movement —The jaw joint sometimes may lock in an open or closed position. You may have difficulty opening your mouth either because the joint is locked or because of pain.

  • "Ear" pain — You may think you have an ear infection, but ear pain may be related to jaw joint inflammation or muscle tenderness. Pain from TMD is usually felt in front of or below the ear.

  • Headaches — People with TMD often report headaches, especially headaches when they first wake up.

  • Morning stiffness or soreness — If your jaw muscles are stiff and sore when you wake up, it may by a sign that you are clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth in your sleep.

  • Difficulty chewing — You may have difficulty chewing as a result of a change in your bite, or the way your upper and lower teeth fit together.

Who Gets TMD and Why?

If you have TMD you are not alone - this disorder occurs in 10-12% of the population, and twice as often in women as men. 

The cause is not always clear.  One factor may be physical stress on your TMJ from teeth grinding or clenching.  A recent injury to the jaw joint, or one from many years past, can lead to TMD symptoms.   Other conditions that affect joints in the body, such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, can also cause TMD pain.   

What Can You Do if you Have TMD?

Most people with TMD have relatively mild or periodic symptoms which quickly improve with simple home therapies such as avoiding hard, crunchy and chewy foods, applying heat or ice packs to the jaw, and avoiding extreme jaw movements.  You may want to invest in a headset for your phone or work on your posture,especially if you find yourself hunching over your computer. 

We also suggest that you consider the level of stress in your life - and do what is needed to reduce it.  If these home remedies are not enough, some of the effective, conservative treatments we use include medication to help with the pain and reduce inflammation, mild muscle relaxants to alleviate jaw clenching and grinding, and fitting our patients with oral appliances.

If these symptoms sound familiar, contact Raleigh dentist Jeff M. Morrison & Associates DDS at (919) 755 3450 for a consultation.  


TMD is an umbrella term covering pain and dysfunction of the muscles that move the jaw and the temporomandibular joints (TMJ).  Many people refer to the jaw pain or discomfort they are experiencing as "TMJ" which is a misnomer.  

TMJ simply refers to the joint. 

Any disorders involving this joint are considered TMD.