What Causes TMJ Dysfunction?

TMJ Dysfunction is a common, often misdiagnosed pathology and is often called “The Great Impostor” because of the many symptoms that can arise it. TMJ Dysfunction (or TMD) is the general term for the symptoms of abnormal joint function.

Some TMJ symptoms include:

  • ringing of the ears
  • Tinnitus
  • headaches
  • facial and muscle pain
  • popping or clicking of the TMJ
  • difficulty eating or chewing
  • neck and or back pain
  • pressure behind eyes and/or blurring of vision
  • direct jaw pain
  • limited opening or range of motion of the jaw (unable to open the jaw 40mm)
  • jaw opens crooked to one side or the other
  • scalloped tongue (from clenching at night)

Generally speaking, there are two reasons we see TMJ dysfunction in patients – microtrauma and macrotrauma.

The first, microtrauma, is caused by any type of trauma that occurs internally. Habits such as parafunctional (outside of function, or abnormal) clenching of the teeth is a common cause. Signs and symptoms include worn down teeth, sore facial muscles, and a scalloped tongue – grooves in the tongue surface where the tongue rests during clenching activity.

Another microtrauma is teeth grinding, or bruxism. The constant wear and tear of forces on the facial muscles and teeth cause stress on the joint, which can lead to further TMJ dysfunction. The constant stress on the supporting muscles of the TMJ can cause the posterior ligament to wear out and improperly displace joint head. If you experience bruxism or clenching, a night guard may provide some relief. You can find more information on bruxism and how to prevent this phenomenon by asking your dental health care professional.

An improper bite, or occlusion can also cause TMJ dysfunction. When your teeth come together properly, the anatomical position of the joint is in tact. However, if the teeth come together incorrectly, the joint can become dislocated over time.

Other trauma causing TMJ Dysfunction could be osteoarthritis of the joint or rheumatoid arthritis. If you are prone to osteoarthritis, the TMJ, like other joints in the body, can deteriorate over time and start to degenerate, which could cause TMJ dysfunction.

Macrotraumas include anything external, such as a blow to the face from physical activity or auto accidents for example. If you have an excessive traumatic force that would allow the joint to be dislocated, this could flatten down the lubricating disc of the TMJ and permanently damage the joint.

If you are suffering from bruxism or clenching, be sure to visit your dental professional for the best treatment options.