Signs and Symptoms of Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorder

woman having tmj jaw pain

Daniel de la Hoz / Getty Images

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects the lower part of your jaw to your skull. Located at each side of the head below your ears, this joint regulates both the up and down and side-to-side movement of your jaw. TMJ disorder is part of a broader range of temporomandibular disorders (TMDs), which causes jaw pain, muscle stiffness, and restricted movement or locking of the jaw, among other symptoms.

These symptoms can range in severity and duration. While some symptoms are mild and resolve on their own, other people may have more severe and chronic pain that lasts longer than three months. Knowing the symptoms can help you understand when to reach out for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Jaw and Facial Pain

Pain in the face and jaw are the most common symptoms of TMJ disorders. This can arise due to inflammation within the joint (known as intra-articular TMJ) or inside muscles close to the jaw (known as extra-articular TMJ). TMJ disorder pain is often localized in one spot (typically around the jaw). However, this pain may spread to other parts of the face, depending on the severity of your condition.

With TMJ disorder, you might experience pain, stiffness, or tenderness in the following parts of your body:

  • Jaw joint
  • Muscles around the jaw
  • Temples of your face
  • Ears
  • Neck
  • Shoulders

Generally, the pain and discomfort get worse when you move your jaw or there is pressure on the affected areas of your face. Jaw and facial pain is the most reported symptom among people with TMJ disorder, as 96% of those with the condition experience this symptom.

Changes in Jaw Function

Another telltale sign of TMJ disorder involves jaw function. In particular, the condition can limit the range of motion in your jaw. You might have difficulty opening or closing your mouth all the way. Sometimes, you can experience a locked jaw, which occurs when your mouth gets stuck in an open or closed position as the joint slips out of alignment. As a result, you might notice difficulty with chewing food or even talking.

Clicking or Popping Jaw

Popping, grating, or clicking in the jaw joint while you're chewing or talking can also be a sign of TMJ disorder. This clicking isn't necessarily a problem on its own. However, when you experience the clicking or popping sound in addition to facial or jaw pain, healthcare providers typically suspect TMJ disorder to be the underlying cause of your symptoms.

Dental Symptoms

Alongside pain and jaw popping, TMJ disorder can also affect the health of your teeth, especially when the condition progresses or worsens. You might experience dental symptoms because of malocclusion, or a misalignment of the upper and lower jaw.

When your upper and lower jaw aren't lined up as they should be, this can cause symptoms such as:

Other Symptoms

Depending on the severity of your condition, it may be common to experience additional symptoms of TMJ disorder that can interfere with your daily life and overall well-being. These symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Tinnitus (a constant ringing of the ears)
  • Hearing loss
  • Ear pain
  • Swelling on the side of your face along the jaw
  • Tired jaw muscles
  • General fatigue

Psychological Effects

While most cases of TMJ disorder can resolve with treatment quickly, sometimes symptoms persist. If you have symptoms for three or more months, it's likely you have a chronic (long-term) TMJ disorder. With chronic conditions, it's unfortunately common to notice changes to your mental health. That said, the psychological effects of chronic TMJ disorder include:

  • Anxiety and excessive worry
  • Depression and uncontrollable sadness
  • Somatization, which occurs when your emotional feelings present themselves as physical symptoms

When to See a Healthcare Provider 

It’s important to note that TMJ disorder symptoms don’t always warrant treatment and can even go away on their own. In fact, researchers found that only between 5% and 12% of people with the condition sought out treatment in the hospital, and up to 40% of TMJ disorder cases were resolved on their own.

Because this condition can cause a variety of symptoms, you may work with several healthcare providers including your primary care provider, pain specialist, otolaryngologist (a doctor who specializes in ear, nose, and throat conditions), and dentists. You should seek out care from your providers if you have:

  • Worsening pain symptoms that last three or more months
  • Trouble completing daily activities
  • Pain that persists even after treatment
  • Difficulty opening or closing your mouth, making it hard to eat or talk

While medical emergencies due to TMJ disorder are rare, they can happen after surgery or treatment. Seek immediate medical attention immediately if you experience any of the following:

  • Prolonged tingling or numbness
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Sudden swelling or severe bruising
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Fever or chills after 48 hours after surgery

A Quick Review 

TMJ disorder is a dysfunction of the temporomandibular (TMJ) joint, which connects the lower jaw to your skull. This condition causes a variety of symptoms including jaw and facial pain, trouble chewing, popping or clicking, and difficulty opening or closing your mouth.

It's important to note that the majority of TMJ disorders can resolve on their own or with minimal treatment. However, if symptoms persist or worsen, it's a good idea to visit your healthcare provider as soon as possible to help you manage your condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can TMJ be on one side only?

    Depending on the cause, TMJ disorder can affect one or both sides of the face. If only one side of your jaw is affected, the symptoms tend to remain on the same side of the face.  

  • How long does a TMJ flare up last?

    How long you experience TMJ disorder symptoms depends on what's the root cause of your pain. Flare-ups can last anywhere from a couple of hours to months before resolving. If symptoms last more than three months, the condition is considered to be chronic.

  • Can TMJ go away on its own?

    In many cases, the symptoms of TMJ disorder resolve on their own without the need for treatment. In fact, only between 5% and 10% of cases require treatment. Additionally, up to 90% who have the condition can get relief with at-home remedies such as eating softer foods, doing jaw stretches, applying warm compresses, or taking over-the-counter pain medications.

Was this page helpful?
5 Sources uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MedlinePlus. Temporomandibular joint dysfunction.

  2. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. TMD (temporomandibular disorders).

  3. Gauer RL, Semidey MJ. Diagnosis and treatment of temporomandibular disorders. Am Fam Physician. 2015;91(6):378-386

  4. Restrepo C, Ortiz AM, Henao AC, Manrique R. Association between psychological factors and temporomandibular disorders in adolescents of rural and urban zones. BMC Oral Health. 2021;21(1):140. doi:10.1186/s12903-021-01485-4

  5. Maini K, Dua A. Temporomandibular syndrome. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

Related Articles