What is the tmj joint


The temporomandibular joint, commonly referred to as the TMJ, is a joint in the jaw responsible for all functions of the jaw including chewing, speaking, and yawning. This joint is formed by the meeting of the temporal bone at the side of the skull and the lower jawbone, or mandible. The TMJ is a complex joint which has cartilage and a disc that separates the bones and helps to maintain smooth function of the joint.

In this article we will discuss the anatomy of the TMJ and the potential causes for TMJ disorders:

Definition of TMJ

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a specialized type of joint that connects the lower jaw, or mandible, to the temporal bones of the skull. This important joint is responsible for enabling movement and necessary for speaking, chewing, and other activities. It also helps absorb shock so that when you grind your teeth or clench your jaw in response to stress, it does not cause harm. In some cases, the TMJ suffers from excursions or dysfunction which can lead to a condition known as temporomandibular disorder (TMD).

TMD is a muscular-skeletal disorder that affects the jaw muscles and temporomandibular joint. While TMD can manifest itself differently in each person, common symptoms include:

  • Muscle stiffness and tenderness while chewing
  • Pain radiating near or around the ear
  • Clicking and popping during movements of the jaw
  • Locking of the jaw joints which makes opening/closing mouth difficult
  • Limitation of movement on one or both sides when opening/closing mouth
  • Headaches and neck aches

In certain cases, TMD can be caused by malocclusion – an improper bite caused by misalignment of teeth – but can also be caused by stress or high levels of physical activity.

Location of TMJ

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint that connects the lower jaw, called the mandible, to the temporal bone at the side of your head. This joint is used in any movement involving opening and closing your mouth, such as eating and talking. Located just in front of each ear, the TMJ is a hinge-like joint composed of bone, ligaments, and several muscles.

Damage to or problems with any of these components can cause painful symptoms in or around your ear or face. Proper diagnosis and treatment can help reduce bothersome symptoms and restore function to your jaw.

Anatomy of TMJ

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint responsible for opening and closing the mouth. It works like a hinge, connecting the lower jawbone to the skull. It also allows for side-to-side movement of the jaw. The anatomy of the TMJ is highly complex and its components are important for proper functioning. Let’s look more closely at the anatomy of the TMJ.


Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint that connects the temporal bone, found in front of the ears, to each side of the mandible or lower jaw bone. The TMJ is a complex system made up of several components, including bones, muscles, ligaments and a joint lining. These components work together to allow for movement while making it possible to chew and speak.

The most important part of any joint is its articulating surfaces which are found on each end of the two bones that make up the TMJ – namely, the temporal bone at one end and either side of the mandible at the other. The articulating surfaces are divided into two sections –the condyle (on each side of the mandible) and fossa (on either side of the temporal bone), which come together to form a sliding pivot joint with hinge-like action. This type of synovial joint allows for both rotation and sliding movements in multiple planes.

Connective tissue is also an important component as it helps hold everything in place providing stability while allowing limited movement from side to side; this includes ligaments (to restrict extremes in movements) and tendons which attach muscle fibers to bones allowing them to produce force when a person moves their jaw. Muscle fibers are bundles composed mainly of collagen fibers encased between fascial sheaths that help protect delicate nerves and blood vessels when they travel throughout the body. The muscles used for chewing have major roles in support systems involving multiple layers that provide added benefit so movement may take place safely without damaging other surrounding organs or structures within limited range motions on either side simultaneously.


The muscles of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) are the main components responsible for controlling chewing and other jaw movements. They consist of two sets of muscles, which work together in harmony to enable movement of the lower jaw.

The muscles that control the opening and closing action are called elevator muscles, while those responsible for sideways movements of the jaw are known as lateral pterygoid muscles.

Elevator Muscles: The elevator muscles include masseter, temporalis, medial and lateral pterygoids. Masseter is a large, powerful muscle that originates from the lower and side parts of the zygomatic arch (cheekbone), then fans out onto the mandible. It allows us to close our mouth forcefully when biting or chewing harder foods like nuts and to keep our teeth together when talking or smiling. Temporalis is a fan-shaped muscle located at the sides and top of skull which also originates from under part of zygomatic arch but inserts onto mandibular coronoid process. Its role in chewing is more important than that of masseter as it lifts our lower jaw up for closing motion faster than masseter does. Medial pterygoid originates from within opened mouth by medial part (midline) of superior head ramus (chin) and assists in opening motion by pushing against ramus itself while contracting whereas lateral pterygoid arises from side surface beneath infratemporal fossa along greater wing extending down towards mandible near its ascending ramus with inference; pushing mandible off centerline when sideways motion is required against resistance force.

Lateral pterygoid Muscles: The lateral pterygoids are located to either side of your face beneath your cheekbones at the point where your upper molars meet your lower premolars. This muscle helps you open up your mouth like you do when you yawn, stick out your tongue or take a sip through a straw; it also helps you chew by forcing one side or another out during each bite – like if you were eating crunchy food on only one side (cheeseburger anyone?) It’s connected not just to bones but also tendons around them allowing it swing both inferolaterally for dynamic mandibular positioning even with different bite positions against teeth occlusion forces applied upon them respectively too!


TMJ, or temporomandibular joint, is a complex joint located between the jawbone and the temporal bone of the skull. It plays an important role in making it possible for us to talk, chew and yawn. There are several ligaments that help support TMJ and enable it to perform smoothly.

The sphenomandibular ligament (SML) connects the spine of the mandible (lower jaw) to the spinous process of sphenoid bone and helps hold the mandible in place by providing stability during chewing. This ligament also assists with range of motion and prevents certain motions such as hyperextension.

The lateral capsule of TMJ is an extensive connective tissue structure which stretches from side to side (right to left) connecting both sets of muscles on either site of TMJ. This ligament allows flexibility where movement between both joints is needed and adds more stability during repetitive motion like talking or chewing by providing strong enough resistance that keeps jaw form moving beyond safe ranges.

The stylomandibular ligament provides stability between the base portion of the styloid process (located on bottom part of temporal bone in front ear area) and angle portion on mandible just below ear area. This ligament attaches styloid process internally into fibromucosal membrane thus providing a cushion like support during range-of-motion activities from side-to-side and up-down movements essential for chewing, talking etc.. Muscle forces generated can also be transmitted pass this membrane creating further stabilization effect from below surface level as well.

Finally there is an intra-articular disc which sits between two halves joining them together forming a cushion or separator thus reducing shearing forces generated when jaw moves during activities such as opening your mouth wide or clenching down your teeth with high intensity force effects sometimes encountered while grinding your teeth; having this layer helps negates such intense forces allowing joint to remain undamaged even with much greater loads sustained over time due its unique ability act as shock absorber while absorbing some energy not always associated with range-of-motion normally associated muscle activities only occurring around midpoint position when its positioned most closely resembling U shaped curve inside medial cavity.

Causes of TMJ Dysfunction

TMJ disorder, or temporomandibular joint disorder, occurs when the two joints that connect the mandible and skull become dysfunctional. This can be caused by incorrect alignment, misalignment of teeth, and grinding or clenching of teeth. It can also be caused by bad habits like chewing gum or nail biting.

In this section, we’ll explore all the possible causes of this disorder:


Trauma is one of the most common causes of TMJ dysfunction, such as due to a blow or injury to the jaw area. Other potential traumatic causes include dental work, extractions and oral surgeries, which affect the muscles and temporomandibular joints directly. This can result in micro-traumas, internal derangement of the joint or misaligned discs. Traumatic causes can also stem from grinding and clenching your teeth, which is known as bruxism.


Stress is known to be one of the leading causes for temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction, due to its effect on the nervous system. In an overly stressed state, muscles become tight and tense, causing strain on certain parts of the body, including the jaw muscles. Stress can also cause people to grind or clench their teeth at night, which can exert pressure on the TMJ joint and its surrounding tissues.

It is important to recognize when stress levels are too high in order to take steps towards reducing it and preventing TMJ problems as a result. These steps may include:

  • Dietary changes that reduce inflammation in the body.
  • Relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation.
  • Getting enough restful sleep.

Misaligned teeth

Misaligned teeth can cause TMJ dysfunction either directly or indirectly. When the alignment of your teeth is not in harmony with the muscles and ligaments of your jaw, it can lead to chronic tension and inflammation of the joint. This tension can also cause muscle tightness and stiffness, which can make the joint less stable and prone to further changes in alignment.

Additionally, malocclusion (bad bite) or spontaneously occurring maladjustments can also lead to changes in pressure on the joint or tightened facial tissues surrounding it, resulting in dysfunctions of the TMJ. Poorly fitted prosthetics like dentures, braces or crowns/fillings are some other causes that put extra stress on the surrounding tissues & joints of your mouth.

In short, having malaligned teeth for a long time is a primary reason for TMJ disorders and must be corrected through orthodontic treatment whenever possible.

Symptoms of TMJ Dysfunction

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) helps in the movement of the lower jaw and connects the two bones in the lower part of the face. Dysfunction of this joint can cause a variety of symptoms from pain in the jaw to headaches and disturbed sleep. In this article, we will discuss all symptoms associated with TMJ dysfunction:


Pain is a common symptom of TMJ dysfunction. Individuals may experience pain in the temporomandibular joint area, or around the jaw, face and temple on one or both sides of the head. Pain is often worse when opening wide or moving the jaw from side to side. Other associated pain may include:

  • Headaches
  • Earache
  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Dizziness

Clicking or popping sound

Clicking or popping sounds when you open or close your mouth are common symptoms of temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ Dysfunction). The clicking and popping sound is due to the cartilage disc moving in and out of the joint space as you open and close your mouth. This can be accompanied by difficulty chewing, pain in the jaw, a “locked” feeling in the jaw, and pain radiating throughout the face, neck, and shoulders. Other symptoms may include headaches, dizziness, ringing in the ear(s), tinnitus (ringing noise when no external sound is present), grinding or clenching of teeth, limited opening of the jaw or a feeling that something is obstructing your airway.

Treatment options for TMJ Dysfunction vary depending on factors such as severity and duration of symptoms. However common treatments include:

  • Physical therapy modalities such as massage therapy around the facial muscles, stabilization splint therapy which helps to reposition misaligned jaw pieces back in proper position of alignment within its socket joint; botox injections to reduce muscle tension around temporomandibular joint (TMJ) area; laser therapy which can help reduce inflammation; heat/ice application for reducing associated swelling around facial muscles;
  • Diet modifications with softer food choices until symptoms improve;
  • Stress reduction techniques such as mindfulness training programs, brief hypnosis sessions combined with cognitive behavioral therapy;
  • Acupuncture when appropriate;
  • Biofeedback.

Limited jaw movement

Limited jaw movement, or being unable to open and close the mouth easily, is one of the most common symptoms of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction. Additionally, if you suffer from TMJ disorder, you may experience clicking noises in your jaw when opening and closing your mouth or be limited in range of motion.

Other common symptoms include:

  • Tenderness when touching the area
  • Pain in the muscles around the ear
  • Headaches or facial pain
  • Discomfort while chewing
  • Grinding noise while chewing
  • Dizziness or insomnia
  • Locking of the jaw joint in an open or closed position.

If any of these symptoms are present, it is best to see a doctor specialized in treating Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Dysfunction as soon as possible to identify and address any potential underlying causes.

Treatments for TMJ Dysfunction

TMJ dysfunction is a disorder that affects the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) that connects your jaw to your skull. This disorder often presents itself through chronic pain and discomfort in the jaw, related muscles, and face. While there is no surefire cure, there are several treatment options available that aim to reduce the discomfort and improve the patient’s quality of life.

Let’s explore some of these treatments:


Medications are one of the main treatments for TMJ dysfunction. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or other pain relievers may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. Muscle relaxants such as diazepam can also be helpful in relieving muscle tension and discomfort. In addition, more specific drugs like narcotics, anticonvulsants, and tricyclic antidepressants may be prescribed depending upon the severity of symptoms.

Other medications aimed at treating psychological stress associated with TMJ disorder may include benzodiazepines or sleeping pills to combat insomnia caused by TMJ-related head, neck and facial pain. SSRIs – antianxiety drugs – may be prescribed to control anxiety levels related to TMJ disorder as well. Alternative therapies such as biofeedback, acupuncture or yoga can also provide relief from symptoms in some cases.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy is an important part of management and treatment for TMJ dysfunction. Its purpose is to reduce pain, restore normal joint mobility and increase muscle strength, flexibility and endurance.

Physical therapy may include components such as:

  • Passive therapeutic exercises: These exercises are designed to stretch and relax the muscles of the jaw joint to promote pain relief.
  • Manual therapy techniques: Manual techniques such as joint mobilization, massage and ultrasound can be used to stretch muscles and mobilize joints in order to restore normal joint movement.
  • Postural education: Postural education can be beneficial in providing education on breathing techniques, posture alignment, and proper stress management practices.
  • Oral neuromuscular retraining exercises: Repetitive gentle stretching of the jaw muscles may help reestablish normal jaw alignment or repositioning control where there is poor posture or displacement of the condyles in their sockets. These types of exercises are aimed at reeducating the neuromuscular control system for improved pain control and improved jaw function.
  • Biofeedback Training: Through biofeedback training patients learn how to recognize tightness in their facial/jaw muscles so they can then use relaxation techniques before tension builds up too high. This technique has been found helpful in modulating pain levels as well as assisting with resetting neuromuscular functioning within the TMJ area.


In cases of extreme pain or jaw movement restrictions, surgery may be the best option to alleviate TMJ dysfunction. Depending on the severity and symptoms, there are a variety of surgical techniques available to effectively treat associated conditions.

  • Fibrillotomy: A small incision is made in the joint capsule and ligaments are cut in several places to make more space for improved jaw movement.
  • Open Reduction: This procedure is used when there is a dislocation or injury that has caused external trauma. During surgery, the surgeon may repair any damage, realign dislocations, reconstruct bone and/or tissue, or reposition facial bones.
  • Arthrocentesis: A procedure used to clean out debris and damaged tissue from the joint cavity using high-pressured water jets while at the same time removing excess fluid using suction.
  • Joint Replacement: In cases where joint degeneration has occurred due to arthritis or injury, this process replaces worn-out portions of the joint with artificial components.
  • Arthroscopy: This procedure allows surgeons access inside of a joint cavity with tiny cameras and instruments that detect abnormalities as well as repair tendons/ligaments and remove scar tissue/damaged tissue if necessary.

It’s important to note that surgery should always be considered as last resort by your physician; however, when other treatments don’t provide sufficient relief—surgery could be a viable option for long-term relief from your TMJ symptoms and more functional jaw movement.

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