What Are Temporomandibular Joint Disorders?

Complex Problems of the Jaw Joint

Jaw pain. VOISIN/PHANIE / Getty Images

Definition: Temporomandibular joint disorders are conditions in which the temporomandibular joint (the jaw) become damaged or the muscles become stressed, causing jaw pain. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the area directly in front of the ear on either side of the head where the upper jaw (maxilla) and lower jaw (mandible) meet. Within the temporomandibular joint, there are moving parts that allow the upper jaw to close on the lower jaw (i.e. biting and chewing, talking and yawning).

It is one of the most frequently used of all the joints in the body.

Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) are a group of complex problems related to the jaw joint. These conditions may be the result of a number of factors, such as an injury to the jaw or joint misalignment and may give rise to a variety of symptoms, most commonly jaw pain, but also face pain, earaches, secondary headaches and pain in the neck muscles.

According to NIDCR, temporomandibular disorders fall into three main categories:

  • myofascial pain most common, which is discomfort or pain in the muscles that control jaw function and the neck and shoulder muscles
  • internal derangement of the joint meaning a dislocated jaw or displaced disc, or condyle injury
  • degenerative joint diseases such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in the jaw

A person may have one or more of these conditions at the same time.

Also Known As: TMJ or TMD Disorders

Common Misspellings: temperomandibular

Examples: He has excruciating pain in the temporomandibular joint.


NIH Publication No. 94-3487

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