CAUSES OF TMJ SYMPTOMS

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There are two ways to look at TMJ to find relief: What causes TMJ and what causes TMJ Symptoms. Most dentists look at what causes TMJ symptoms and pursue therapy to alleviate those symptoms. I prefer to look at what causes TMJ because you find relief and reverse the TMJ condition to a healthier status. Since many suffering from TMJ cannot find the root cause, this page will look at what causes TMJ symptoms so you can find relief.

Five problems cause TMJ symptoms & signs: muscle inflammation, temporomandibular joint inflammation, TMJ disc degeneration, TMJ disc dislocation, and tooth ligament inflammation. Each of these problems will cause a set of TMJ symptoms, and that is how you know where your TMJ pain is originating. Once you find where your symptoms arise, you can find a remedy for relief.
 

What Are The TMJ Symptoms & Signs?

The first step to locating your pain is making a note of which of the following TMJ symptoms you have. Then you can find what is causing your TMJ symptoms, which will tell us how to get relief.

The TMJ symptoms and signs are:

- Jaw Popping
- Crepitus (a crackling noise in the joint)
- Headaches
- Pain in the temporalis (a muscle above the ears)
- Pain in the masseter (a muscle in front of the ear from the angle of the jaw to the cheek bone)
- Pain in the jaw when chewing
- Pain in the teeth when chewing
- Pain in the neck, upper back, shoulders, face, back of the head, and around the eyes
- Worn-down teeth and flattened teeth
- Cratering in the biting surface of the teeth.
- Many broken teeth or fillings
- Tinnitus
- Earache
- Limited mouth opening
- Jaw Lock
- Large Tori (extra bone growth in the jaw)
- Biting feels off or uneven
- Pronounced jaw muscles
- Teeth Clenching

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What are the Temporalis and Masseter Muscle Inflammation Symptoms?

We start by talking about temporalis and masseter muscle inflammation because it causes a lot of involuntary clenching and grinding, known as bruxism. Bruxism usually is what sets off all the other causes of TMJ symptoms. Thus, jaw muscle inflammation is crucial to understand if you want to understand TMJ.

 The masseter muscle and temporalis are the two main muscles responsible for clenching and will experience inflammation due to excessive clenching. The temporalis and masseter muscle inflammation symptoms are jaw muscle pain, referred tooth pain, headaches, pronounced jaw muscles, neck pain, back pain, and clenching.

Does TMJ Cause Jaw Muscle Pain?

Myofascial pain is the medical term for muscle pain, including your jaw muscles. Further, myofascial pain is soreness in the muscles and soft tissues, usually correlated to inflammation. For example, an astonishing study shows that 70% of people with myofascial pain, anywhere in their body, clench their teeth at night. Another study showed that 70% of the population with myofascial pain specific to the mouth and face area clenched and ground their teeth at night. Interestingly, only about 5 to 8 percent of the population clench their teeth. Thus, there is a strong link between muscle inflammation and TMJ caused by sleep clenching or bruxism.

Nerves do not like inflammation. It conflicts with their regular flow and makes them irritable. Therefore, TMJ will cause inflammation in your jaw muscles, and you will likely develop pain in the masseter and temporalis muscles depicted in an image in this section.

Pointing To Masseter Pain Location with TMJ

Does TMJ Cause Headaches?

The inflammation in the masseter and temporalis will lead to headaches. Some studies show a strong correlation between TMJ myofascial pain and headaches. To illustrate the point, Ibuprofen tends to work better than Tylenol for headaches in some people because it is an anti-inflammatory drug. Thus, not only does Ibuprofen dull the pain response, but Ibuprofen fights the underlying inflammation as well. You can see TMJ will cause headaches due to the inflammation of the jaw muscles.
Temporalis Muscle Location

Does TMJ Cause Referred Pain in the Teeth?

Jaw muscle inflammation from TMJ can result in referred pain in the teeth. The referred pain is caused by nerves becoming irritable when exposed to inflammation from other tissues. Specifically, the nerves connected to your teeth are affected because they run through and adjacent to the inflamed jaw muscles. Referred tooth pain can lead to unnecessary dental treatment if not correctly diagnosed. However, a few points will help diagnose the referred pain. First, if pressing on the jaw muscle produces pain in the tooth, it is likely referred pain. Second, if other pain-diagnosing tooth tests have limited or inconsistent results, you should suspect possible referred tooth pain. Finally, the diagram in this section matches the inflamed parts of a muscle to the corresponding referred teeth.
All Trigger Points Referred Pain to Teeth Phantome Jaw Pain

Does TMJ Cause Pronounced Jaw Muscles?

Pronounced jaw muscles signify you may have TMJ-induced inflammation. Jaw muscles will become stronger and more prominent when you clench and grind your teeth over time. Like most skeletal muscles, overworked muscles will noticeably bulge when you clench your teeth and feel tight to the touch. In addition, the angles of the jaw can be more pronounced even when the muscles are at rest.
Large Masseter Muscle

Does TMJ Cause Neck Pain and Shoulder, Eye, Back, and Head Soreness?

Pain in the neck, back, eye, head, and shoulder muscles can be a symptom of inflamed chewing muscles and TMJ. Our bodies are remarkable in that they will compensate for weakness to operate even when injured. If we fatigue our jaw muscles, other muscles compensate, and they too can become fatigued. Thus, you can start getting muscle pain that seemingly has little to do with TMJ and chewing. These other muscles include pain in your neck, upper back, shoulders, back of your eyes, and back of your head. For each person, it is different which muscles will become fatigued. Most commonly, neck pain is associated with TMJ.

Jaw muscle fatigue can happen in reverse too. For example, if you overuse your neck muscles and they become exhausted, your jaw muscles can start to compensate. The jaw muscle then becomes tired and sore. Either way, the result is a lot of head and neck muscles become worn out, tired, sore, and inflamed.

Upper Back and Neck Pain

Are Jaw Clenching, Grinding, and Bruxism Symptoms of TMJ?

Clenching and grinding, known as Bruxism, are symptoms of TMJ muscle inflammation. Clenching and grinding are more related to the root cause of TMJ that we cover more on this page but are still a symptom of muscle inflammation. In fact, 87.5% of people with TMJ also experience bruxism, according to one study. Most of the time, clenching will happen at night when you don’t notice it. However, you may also catch yourself clenching during the day. If so, read my article or watch my video on the root cause of TMJ and clenching excessively.
Clenching Teeth

Does TMJ Cause Cracked and Worn-down Teeth?

The clenching and grinding associated with TMJ can cause an increase in cracked and worn down teeth. As mentioned earlier, about 87.5% of people with TMJ simultaneously experience bruxism, or clenching and grinding. Excessive clenching will increase the possibility of worn-down and broken teeth, crowns, and fillings. Worn-down teeth, as depicted in the picture of this section, are characterized by flattened teeth and cratering of the biting surface of the teeth.
Worn Down Teeth with Dentin Hypersensitivity

Is Mandibular Tori Correlated With TMJ?

Tori is a word that means extra bone growth, and mandibular tori is specific to the jaw. Mandibular Tori is very common; however, some people may not notice they have it most of their lives. Once in a while, a patient will become concerned about the tori when they finally realize they have it. As seen in this section's image, Tori is commonly small and not problematic. However, the tori can become very large and inhibiting for a few people. Studies have shown that mandibular tori are more common in people with TMJ. There is generally no need for concern if you have tori unless it becomes rapidly growing or painful. In that case, you should see your dentist. Otherwise, mandibular tori can indicate you may have TMJ but neither confirm if you do or don’t have it.
Mandibular Tori

How Do You Relieve Masseter and Temporalis Muscle Inflammation?

On another page linked to here, I go over how to eliminate what might be triggering the clenching and inflammation of the masseter muscle. Those are possible direct causes of TMJ. On this page, we assume you couldn’t find the root cause and want relief by intervention. You can relieve masseter muscle inflammation just how you would deal with any type of muscle inflammation: Muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatories, trigger point injections, cold compress for recent inflammation, hot compress for chronic inflammation, massages, nightguards, and physical therapy. However, each one of these options is limited in what it can achieve because it doesn’t fix the root cause of TMJ. See our TMJ relief page for more the remedies to TMJ.
Ibuprofen Nonsteroidal Anti Inflammatory Label

What Are The TMJ Disc Displacement Symptoms?

The TMJ is the temporomandibular joint. It connects the jaw bone to the rest of the skull. There is a capsule and disc in the joint that stabilizes the jaw, so it functions normally. The jaw rotates in that socket until a certain point when you open your mouth. When you open wider, the jaw slides forward and out of that socket. Under normal conditions, the capsule and disc between the jaw bone and socket keep everything running smoothly. However, for some, it doesn’t run smoothly. If the disc is dislodged or displaced, it pops in and out of the disc once they open broad enough. The TMJ disc displacement can then cause the following set of possible symptoms: Jaw popping, jaw locking, and TMJ pain.

We will cover why the TMJ causes the symptoms now, but if you want to know what causes disc displacement, we will cover that by clicking here.
Jaw Joint TMJ Disc Capsule Normal Function Opening

Does TMJ Cause Jaw Popping and Clicking?

TMJ disorder, also known as TMD, can cause jaw popping and clicking while chewing and opening wide. When the disc that keeps the jaw running smoothly is displaced, the jaw bone can pop in and out of place when opening and closing. This popping is the jaw clicking that one will experience when chewing or yawning. The jaw clicking can be painful or painless. Even if you don’t experience pain with jaw popping, you should limit excessive chewing habits that could intensify the problem.
We call the condition of jaw popping “disc displacement with reduction.” Simply put, this means the disc will reduce or allow the jaw bone to pop back into the disc as it moves forward.

Jaw Popping can be temporary or long-term. If the popping is a recent issue, you should take care to help remedy the problem and prevent long-term popping. Anti-inflammatory medication, TMJ exercises, and a soft food diet will help to avoid possible long-term popping. For more, read my article or watch my video on TMJ remedies.
TMJ with Reduction Popping Jaw Joint

If A Jaw Won’t Open All The Way, Is It Caused By TMJ?

A jaw that won’t open all the way is possibly due to TMJ in three different ways: Jaw muscle inflammation, jaw joint inflammation, or TMJ disc displacement. To not be redundant, we will cover all three here. If there is inflammation in the muscles, the jaw might not be able sufficiently to move the jaw open. However, more commonly for limited jaw opening, the disc might be displaced, inflamed, or both. When the disc gets displaced in front of the jaw bone and won’t pop into place, it is called TMJ disc displacement without reduction. This means the disc won’t reduce or allow the jaw bone to pop back into the disc as it tries to move forward.
Limited Opening of TMJ

Does TMJ Cause Open Jaw Lock?

The TMJ can cause an open-jaw lock when the disc that keeps the jaw joint in order becomes displaced behind the jaw bone. Ligaments and tendons stop your muscles from moving bones past their intended use. Your TMJ capsule and the stylomandibular ligament stop the jawbone from moving too far forward. However, sometimes when opening wide, like when yawning, the muscles pull the jawbone too far forward, and the disc displaces behind the jawbone. Usually, the jaw bone will automatically pop back into place after the disc becomes displaced, but sometimes it won’t. If the bone doesn’t pop back into place, it will have to be popped into place manually. Popping a jaw into place can be an excruciating process as well.
Typically posterior disc displacement is not an ongoing issue and will only happen once or twice in life. However, for some people, whenever they open it too wide, the problem reoccurs. Either way, it is a frightening issue, but keep calm and seek immediate help if it happens.

Another important note is Jaw locking should not be confused with Lockjaw caused by a bacterial infection.

Popping Lock Jaw Back Into Place

Does TMJ Disc Displacement Cause Pain?

The three manners in which TMJ disc displacement can cause pain are: Overextending ligaments, pinching of the discs, and bone grinding. However, many people will never have any pain from TMJ disc displacement. Overextending any ligament or tendon can set off pain no matter where in the body. Pinching the TMJ articular disc to pop the jaw into place can cause pain, just like a pinch in the spinal discs. Lastly, without the disc to protect the joint, the bones may start to grind against each other, which will cause pain in the jaw joint.
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What Are The TMJ Inflammation Symptoms?

The TMJ is the temporomandibular joint, and it connects the jaw bone to the rest of the skull. A capsule and disc in the joint stabilize the jaw to function normally. However, when the TMJ senses trauma or disfunction, it will become inflamed. If the TMJ has inflammation, it destabilizes the jaw and produces symptoms. Importantly, TMJ inflammation in the joint itself should not be confused with inflammation in the muscles supporting it, which we have already covered. The common TMJ inflammation symptoms are tinnitus, TMJ pain, ear pain, TMJ disc displacement, limited jaw opening, and an uneven bite.

Does TMJ Cause Ear Pain and Tinnitus?

If you look at the image in this section, you will see a real human skull and how close the TMJ is to this hole next to it. That hole is called the external auditory meatus and is where you will find your eardrums and many essential nerves for hearing. Next, you will notice a fissure or space that connects the TMJ socket to the inside of the external auditory meatus. Because of that fissure, called the petrotympanic fissure, you can experience tinnitus if you have TMJ. There is still debate about how these two affect each other, but it is likely from the pressure and spread of TMJ inflammation or the excessive tension of jaw muscles on the fissure.

According to a study, four things contribute to whether you will get tinnitus due to TMJ. First, if the petrotympanic fissure is open or semi-open, there is more communication with the TMJ, and thus the two will affect each other. Second, if the petrotympanic fissures’ height is near the middle of the socket, you are more likely to get TMJ tinnitus and jaw ear pain. Third, if the TMJ disc displacement is in front of the jawbone instead of a different location, you increase the risk of TMJ tinnitus and jaw ear pain. Fourth, females get tinnitus due to TMJ at a much higher rate than men. Another study adds a fifth risk factor that we have already covered earlier. Finally, if you have muscle pain and inflammation due to TMJ, you are much more likely to have jaw ear pain and TMJ tinnitus.

TMJ will increase the intensity of tinnitus even if the root cause is not the TMJ.

Petrotympanic Fissure TMJ Tinnitus

Does TMJ Cause An Uneven Bite?

The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is like a door hinge. If a door hinge is slightly off, the door will not close or lock correctly. If your TMJ has inflammation, this will alter its hinge and how your teeth usually close together. Therefore TMJ inflammation will cause an uneven bite.
Checking the Bite for High Spot Uneven Bite

Can TMJ Inflammation Cause Disc Displacement?

Usually, TMJ disc displacement will cause TMJ inflammation due to its constant trauma to the disc. However, the reverse is possible as well. For example, if you have experienced trauma to the jaw joint, your TMJ may have inflammation. The inflammation may cause the disc to displace, which causes more trauma and inflammation. This situation is a vicious cycle that can lead to permanent disc displacement. Therefore, I recommend seeking a medical professional that can prescribe anti-inflammatory medication so that the jaw can settle into its correct position with minor inflammation.
TMJ Inflammation

Can TMJ Cause A Jaw that Won’t Open All the Way?

Inflammation in any joint can cause stiffness that will limit movement. Inflammation in the TMJ likewise can restrict movement, so your jaw won’t open all the way.
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What Are The TMJ Degeneration Symptoms?

If you have TMJ Capsule inflammation or disc dislocation for too long, this leads to another possible mechanism of TMJ, which is jaw disc degeneration. TMJ degeneration is when the disc and capsule of the TMJ start to degenerate due to sustained inflammation. TMJ disc degeneration could give any of the symptoms involved with TMJ inflammation that we already covered: tinnitus, TMJ pain, ear pain, TMJ disc displacement, limited jaw opening, and an uneven bite. However, disc degeneration symptoms are much more difficult to improve once you have TMJ Degeneration, and all its symptoms, including pain, can be more intense. In addition to the symptoms of TMJ inflammation, TMJ degeneration can cause crepitus.

Does TMJ Cause Crepitus?

If the TMJ disc starts to deteriorate, you may notice a crackling sound or a bunch of small popping noises in the jaw when opening and closing the mouth. This phenomenon is called crepitus and happens in other joints, like the knee. Crepitus can be harmless but also could be a sign of problems in the joint. It happens for various reasons like roughened or irregular surfaces in the joint, little air bubbles popping inside your joint, or the bones rubbing together. Crepitus seems more common with TMJ capsule degeneration but can happen without degeneration.
TMJ Disc Degeneration

What Are The Symptoms of TMJ Tooth Ligament Inflammation?

Let’s now go over Tooth Ligament Inflammation. Your teeth have ligaments anchoring them tightly to the jaw bone. If too much pressure goes onto those teeth, it translates to the ligaments, which can become bruised and inflamed. TMJ is often associated with excessive teeth clenching and chewing, so naturally, people with TMJ are more inclined to have tooth ligament inflammation. Tooth ligament inflammation has two main symptoms: tooth pain while biting and loose teeth.

On X-rays, Tooth ligament inflammation is apparent for some because the space between the tooth and bone becomes more pronounced when it usually is very slight. In addition, tooth ligament inflammation occurs more frequently if you are missing teeth because fewer teeth are distributing the load of biting pressure when you clench. Still, it can happen to anyone with a complete set of teeth.

Does TMJ Cause Tooth Pain to Biting?

There are many reasons your teeth might be sensitive and painful to your bite. One of the causes of biting pain is tooth ligament inflammation. If a tooth has too much pressure on it, then over time, the ligaments become inflamed and sore, especially to chewing. Consequently, the pain associated with tooth ligaments is often difficult to pinpoint for people because many teeth are affected by supporting the increased pressure. However, if just one tooth has shifted into a position that bears more force, then the one tooth can become sore with ligament inflammation. For some people, it can even loosen their teeth.
Tooth Ligament Pain Animated
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