Jaw and facial pain, difficulty opening and closing your mouth (jaw lock), clicking, and popping may all be signals of a temporomandibular disorder (TMD), also called temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders. While pain and other TMD symptoms are often temporary, a TMJ specialist can help if your jaw and facial pain persist or if you are unable to completely open your mouth.
Duke Health has a range of TMJ specialists, from dentists who specialize in noninvasive treatments for facial and jaw pain, to oral and maxillofacial surgeons who are trained and skilled in corrective jaw surgery, if your condition has progressed. Together, our goal is to identify the factors that may be responsible for your TMJ disorder and help you improve your quality of life.
Causes of TMJ Disorders (TMDs)
The two temporomandibular joints (TMJs) – one on each side of your face – connect your jaw to your skull and are responsible for your jaw’s ability to open and close. A variety of conditions can cause jaw pain that can travel throughout your face and surrounding areas. They include:
- Oral habits (chewing gum, biting nails, and daytime or nighttime clenching or grinding)
- Jaw joint injury
- Arthritis (like knee and hip joints, painful arthritis can also affect your jaw joint)
- Psychosocial factors (anxiety, depression, stress, and other issues)
- Genetic predisposition
- Environmental factors
When to See a TMJ Specialist
Clicking, popping, and grating sounds are common among people with a TMJ disorder, but they aren’t a reason for concern on their own. You should seek care if these noises are accompanied by facial pain or limited jaw movement.
Often, TMD or TMJ disorders may cause other symptoms, such as ear pain, headaches, and even muscle spasms in the jaw. The pain can spread to your tongue, teeth, and surrounding areas, like your cheeks, chin, neck, and shoulders.
Duke Offers Care for Every Stage of TMJ Disorders/TMD
Our dentists specialize in TMJ disorders and facial pain. They offer a wide range of noninvasive treatment options to treat your condition.
If you are diagnosed with end-stage joint disease, our oral surgeon is one of the few in the area to offer several surgical options, from minimally invasive procedures to total joint replacement.
We also work closely with other specialists, including rheumatologists who treat people with conditions like arthritis and lupus, in which joint problems such as TMJ frequently occur.
Duke Health offers locations throughout the Triangle. Find one near you.
Diagnosing TMJ Disorder
The first step toward diagnosing a TMJ disorder is a comprehensive examination. Your doctor wants to determine if there is an underlying cause for your pain and what other problems you may be experiencing. You will be asked several questions such as:
- When did your pain start?
- What is its location, quality, intensity, duration, and frequency?
- What makes your pain better or worse?
- Do you have any other symptoms with your pain, like nausea or light sensitivity?
- Do you have pain elsewhere? Are you experiencing facial pain, ear pain, headaches (including migraines), neck pain, or shoulder pain?
During a physical examination of your jaw, your doctor will evaluate the jaw joint, its surrounding structures, the jaw muscles, oral tissues, and teeth.
Your doctor may request imaging tests if they learn something during the consultation and physical exam that requires a closer look. These tests may include:
- CT scans
Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why we are once again recognized as the best hospital in North Carolina, and nationally ranked in 11 adult and 9 pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report for 2021–2022.