Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) isn’t really just one condition, it’s more like a group of conditions that are linked by their symptoms and given a common label. The conditions have frustrated attempts to further subdivide them, so we continue to use this umbrella term because it’s useful.

Because TMJ is really many conditions, it can also have many different causes, which can influence your TMJ symptoms, and may influence the proper treatment for you. Here are a few of the common causes of TMJ and what they mean for your treatment.

Jaw Trauma

Young blonde woman with jaw painIf you received a blow to the jaw, it can cause a brief dislocation of the joints and imbalance in the jaw muscles. Left untreated, this can develop into severe joint problems, but if treated early, these cases are more likely to need only an electronic muscle massage, called TENS, to help the muscles relax so the jaw can be maneuvered back into place. Sometimes, though, the dislocation of the jaw is more serious and may require more prolonged treatment.

It’s worth noting that whiplash injuries, in which your jaw was subjected to significant force without a blow (such as in a car accident) can cause similar dislocations.

Malocclusion (Bad Bite)

When your teeth don’t fit together in a way that’s comfortable for your jaw muscles, it can cause them to put stress on your jaw joint, leading to joint damage. TMJ related to this cause is more likely to benefit from a bite splint that helps your jaw find a comfortable resting position. Reconstructive dentistry can be used once we’ve established the right jaw position and you want to get the same results without the removable splint.


Bruxism, involuntary jaw clenching and grinding, is hard on your teeth, but it’s also hard on your jaw joint. It can cause sore jaw muscles, but can also develop into jaw pain at the joint as well, and, ultimately, can lead to dislocated and damaged jaw joint. The proper TMJ treatment depends on the cause of bruxism, which can relate to malocclusion, prescription medications, or just stress.

Overworked Jaw

The origin of the human genus tracks from when our jaw stopped following the formula that relates the size of the jaw to the overall size of primates. Because we started cooking our food and using our jaw for speaking, our jaw lost the ability to spend all day chewing without ill effects (such as you’ll see gorillas doing). If you spend all day chewing gum or eat a lot of really hard or tough foods, you can stress the jaw joint, resulting in dislocation of the cushioning discs, and, ultimately, degeneration of the jaw joint. In the early stages, this type of TMJ responds well to home treatment, but in the later stages it requires surgical treatment.


Arthritis can affect your jaw joint the same way it affects other joints in your body. There are two types of arthritis that commonly lead to TMJ. Osteoarthritis is when the cumulative wear on your jaw joint breaks down the cushioning disc and wears down the bones of the joint. It’s usually associated with age. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the jaw joint. In both cases, you may experience inflammation and pain in the jaw joint, often with fewer other symptoms like headaches and tinnitus. The best treatment for this type of TMJ relates to treating the arthritis.

The Right Treatment for You

If you are unsure what TMJ treatment is right for you, it’s important to talk to both your doctor and a TMJ dentist to ensure you are getting a balanced and complete perspective. For an appointment with a Mohegan Lake TMJ dentist, please call (914) 526-2144  for an appointment at Advanced Dentistry of Mohegan Lake.