The Temporomandibular Joint is a joint connecting the mandible (jaw) to the skull. A healthy TMJ allows us to open and close our jaws comfortably. However when there are problems with this joint, a host of symptoms may appear. TMJ disorders are affected by many of the same conditions and diseases that other joints in our body suffer. Due to the complexity of the joint, there are many misconceptions about the disorder, and its treatment.

  1. My jaw is clicking; something is seriously wrong with my jaw. Many people experience clicking and other sounds in various joints in the body. The TMJ is no exception. While clicking alone may not be a problem, if the click is associated with pain, difficulty in chewing, intermittent limited movement or otherwise unexplained head and neck pain, a professional evaluation is recommended.
  2. I have recently started to get headaches, it must be TMJ. There are many kinds of headaches; some can be vascular such as migraines, and others may be from pathology in the brain. Often headaches can be part of a Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD), in combination with a dysfunction in the neck and shoulders. This condition can usually be improved by seeing a dentist who has an expertise in TMJ, and who works in conjunction with a physical therapist. If headaches persist after seeing your physician, consider seeing a dentist knowledgeable in TMJ/Orofacial pain for a consultation.
  3. Every time I chew, I am getting pain in my jaw. It must be TMJ. Jaw pain can be from many sources including the teeth, the gums and the salivary glands. Of course the muscles that control the jaw and the jaw joint itself (TMJ) can be a source of the pain as well. Seeing your dentist, or someone trained in Orofacial pain evaluation is critical, to identify the cause of the pain, and to recommend treatment.
  4. I have tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and have been to lots of different doctors without help. Someone said it may be caused by TMJ. Tinnitus without any specific TMJ symptoms (jaw clicking, locking, muscle pain, muscle tension headache) is unlikely to be caused by a temporomandibular disorder. However, in patients where these symptoms co-exist together with tinnitus, evaluation by an Orofacial Pain dentist is recommended. Treatment for TMDs can often (but not all the time) help.
  5. My jaw is locked; I have limited movement, and have pain. I was told I need TMJ surgery. Arthroscopic and open joint TMJ surgery can be indicated for selected situations with limited jaw movement or locking. However, there are non-surgical approaches that often can help, including intra-oral appliances, exercises to increase range of motion and strategies to decrease pain. Once the symptoms start, the earlier the non-surgical treatment is provided the better chance of avoiding surgery. Thorough evaluation by a TMJ/Orofacial Pain dentist is recommended for proper diagnosis and treatment.
  6. I was told there really is no cure for TMJ. There are effective treatments for TMJ disorders. Many temporomandibular disorders (TMJ or TMD) can be episodic, and after treatment don’t reoccur or reoccur infrequently. Other problems can be more chronic but still can be successfully treated with the hope that if there is recurrence, you have strategies to successfully combat the pain and dysfunction. Overall this decreases the frequent need for doctor visits.
  7. Is TMJ treatment very expensive, and is it covered by insurance? Depending on the approach, and the exact nature of the problem, treatment for temporomandibular disorders (TMD or TMJ) costs can vary dramatically from several hundred dollars to thousands of dollars and more. TMDs, if covered, are generally covered by your medical insurance plan. I always recommend that patients check with their carrier of benefits office to see if insurance will provide partial of full coverage. Expect the claim to take longer and don’t be surprised if your doctor is asked to provide supporting documentation and/or a letter of medical necessity.

Dr. Andrew Kaplan is a recognized expert in TMJ and Orofacial pain. He has written extensively, including a textbook entitled “Temporomandibular Disorders, Diagnosis and Treatment”  and two other books on TMJ and Pain for the public.  He was the head of Mount Sinai’s TMJ/Facial Pain Clinic for 15 years.