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What Can Cause Someone to Be Diagnosed With TMJ?

April 8th, 2024 | 4 min read

By NYC Smile Design

A person holding their face due to TMJ or jaw pain

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder is a condition that affects countless individuals, leading to discomfort and affecting daily life. Understanding the disorder, its causes, and how it impacts individuals is essential for those seeking relief and effective management.

At NYC Smile Design, we've seen firsthand the impact TMJ disorder can have on an individual's quality of life. From persistent jaw pain to the challenges of daily activities like eating and speaking, the effects are far-reaching. 

This blog is designed to deepen your understanding of TMJ disorder, explore its common causes, and offer insight into effective management strategies. With our experience in diagnosing and treating TMJ issues, we aim to guide you through the complexities of this condition, ensuring you're well-informed and prepared to take the next steps toward relief.

Understanding TMJ Disorder

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) disorder represents a complex condition that affects the joints and muscles responsible for jaw movement. This disorder encompasses a range of issues linked to the temporomandibular joints — the hinges connecting your jawbone to your skull, situated just in front of your ears. These critical joints facilitate essential functions such as talking, chewing, swallowing, and yawning, making any disorder within them particularly impactful.

TMJ disorders can manifest in various ways, including pain or tenderness in the jaw, aching around the ear, difficulty or discomfort while chewing, and even lockjaw, which is a condition where the jaw becomes stuck in an open or closed position. Some individuals may experience a clicking or grating sensation when opening their mouth or chewing, which can be alarming, though it's not always accompanied by pain.

A Diagram of TMJ

The symptoms of TMJ disorder not only affect the jaw area but can also lead to secondary issues such as headaches, neck aches, and even changes in how the upper and lower teeth fit together. The complexity of TMJ disorders lies in their varied symptoms and triggers, making them a challenge to diagnose and treat effectively. Understanding TMJ disorder is the first step towards identifying the right management strategies to alleviate discomfort and improve quality of life.

Common Causes of TMJ Disorder

Several factors can lead to TMJ disorder:

  • Jaw Injury: Trauma to the jaw or joint can initiate TMJ disorder, causing pain and dysfunction.
  • Medications and Jaw Clenching: Certain medications can lead to bruxism (teeth grinding) and jaw clenching, both of which can exacerbate TMJ symptoms.
  • Arthritis: Various forms of arthritis can affect the temporomandibular joint, leading to inflammation and joint damage.
  • Breathing Obstructions/Disorders: Snoring, tongue misplacement, narrowed airways, sinus conditions, and allergies are intricately linked. Airway problems can lead to bite and jaw alignment problems, and vice versa.
  • Dental Misalignment: Misaligned teeth or jaw can place extra pressure on the TMJ, contributing to the disorder.
  • Connective Tissue Disorders: Conditions that affect the body's connective tissues can also impact the TMJ, potentially leading to disorder symptoms.

Face pain due to TMJ

Risk Factors Contributing to TMJ Disorder

The risk of developing Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) disorder is influenced by a variety of factors that can vary significantly from one individual to another. Understanding these risk factors is crucial for both identifying potential susceptibility to the disorder and for the development of targeted management strategies.


The influence of genetics on TMJ disorder is a significant area of interest. Studies suggest that certain genetic markers may predispose individuals to TMJ problems, indicating that family history could play a role in one's likelihood of experiencing TMJ disorders. This genetic predisposition can affect the structure of the jaw, the structure and position of sinuses and the airway,  the composition of joint tissue, or the body's response to stress and inflammation, contributing to the complexity of TMJ disorders.

Teeth Alignment Issues

The influence of a bad bite, orthodontic relapses, incomplete or limited orthodontic therapy, and lack of upper and lower jaw development, can lead to teeth alignment issues. Teeth alignment issues can lead to improper alignment of the TMJs which may develop into TMJ disorders.


The disparity between genders in the prevalence of TMJ disorders is notable, with research consistently showing that women are disproportionately affected compared to men. This difference may be attributed to hormonal factors, which can influence pain sensitivity, inflammation, and joint function. Estrogen, in particular, has been studied for its potential role in modulating pain and joint health, suggesting a complex interplay between hormonal health and TMJ disorders.

Other Health Conditions

The presence of other health conditions can significantly impact the onset and severity of TMJ disorder symptoms. For instance, conditions that affect systemic inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia, can worsen TMJ symptoms. Additionally, chronic stress and anxiety not only contribute to behaviors like teeth grinding (bruxism) and jaw clenching but can also heighten pain perception, making TMJ disorder symptoms more pronounced. Understanding the underlying health issues and how they interconnect with TMJ disorders is essential for creating an effective treatment plan.

Diagnosing TMJ Disorder

The process of diagnosing Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) disorder is thorough and multidisciplinary, often involving a team of healthcare professionals to ensure a comprehensive assessment. This collaborative approach is crucial for accurately identifying TMJ disorders and devising an effective treatment plan.

Initial Evaluation

The diagnosis journey usually begins with a detailed discussion of the patient's symptoms and medical history. Healthcare professionals, particularly dentists who specialize in TMJ disorders, will inquire about the onset of symptoms, their duration, and any actions that exacerbate or alleviate the discomfort. This initial conversation is critical for guiding the subsequent physical examination.

Physical Examination

During the physical examination, the dentist or specialist will assess the jaw's range of motion, checking for any limitations or discomfort while opening or closing the mouth. They will also palpate the jaw and surrounding areas, including the temporomandibular joints, to detect any tenderness, clicking, popping, or grating sounds, which can indicate abnormalities in the joint's function.

Imaging Tests

Imaging studies play a pivotal role in diagnosing TMJ disorders by providing detailed visuals of the jaw and temporomandibular joints. Common imaging tests include:

  • X-rays: Offer a basic view of the jaw and TMJ, helping identify any structural abnormalities.
  • Computed Tomography (CT) Scans: Provide more detailed images, allowing for a closer examination of the bones involved in the joint.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scans: MRI scans are particularly useful for viewing the TMJ's soft tissues, including the disc and surrounding muscles. These scans can help identify if the disc is in the proper position as the jaw moves.
  • 3D digital Scan: A 3D scan and analysis of the patient’s teeth and bite are useful in identifying alignment issues that may be contributing to the TMJ issues or if the TMJ issues have caused changes in the alignment of the teeth.

Seeking Treatment and Management

Professional advice is key to effectively managing TMJ disorder symptoms. Treatment options vary, ranging from lifestyle adjustments and physical therapy to medical interventions addressing arthritis, sinus, allergy, and sleep issues. Dental treatments can include orthodontic treatment, restorative treatments, and myofunctional therapy.  Each treatment plan is tailored to the individual's specific needs and symptoms.

Finding TMJ Relief

TMJ disorder is multifaceted, with various causes and risk factors contributing to its development. Understanding these aspects is crucial for individuals seeking relief. Professional consultation is essential for a proper diagnosis and to explore effective treatment options.

For those experiencing symptoms of TMJ disorder, NYC Smile Design offers expert evaluations and personalized treatment plans. We encourage you to schedule a consultation to discuss your symptoms and find the best approach to manage your TMJ disorder.