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Understanding TMJ Disorder: Causes, Risk Factors, and Treatment Options

By June 20, 2023TMJ Disorder
woman with tmj disorder wincing while drinking coffee

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, commonly referred to as TMJ disorder, is an orofacial condition that affects the jaw joint and the surrounding muscles. Prolonged and untreated TMJ disorder can lead to discomfort, pain, and restricted jaw movement. In turn, this condition can have a significant impact on one’s daily life, overall comfort, and oral function. 

That’s why addressing TMJ disorder is so important. Otherwise, it can cause a domino effect of other oral and systemic health issues that may turn into larger problems down the road

If you’re experiencing jaw pain, frequent headaches, or restless nights, it might be time to talk to a professional about TMJ disorder. Get the care you deserve with Dr. Timothy Mickiewicz in Sacramento, CA. Our team can help you pinpoint the cause of the condition and offer treatment suggestions that work with your body, not against it. Schedule your appointment today by calling our team at (916) 469-9178 now!

In this blog, we explore what TMJ disorder is, its causes, and the common risk factors associated with the condition. We also discuss who is more prone to developing it, factors that can exacerbate the symptoms, as well as home remedies and dental treatments that can help alleviate the pain and reinstate better functionality.

What is TMJ disorder?

The human skull contains 22 bones. Two of those bones go by the name of ‘mandible’ and ‘temporal bone.’ The mandible is what we usually think of as our lower jaw. The temporal bone is located on each side of the skull, just above the ears. If we blend the words ‘mandible’ and ‘temporal’ together, we get temporomandibular. 

As a joint, the temporomandibular joint helps to connect our jaw (mandible) to our skull (temporal bone). Because of the nature of this connection, the joint functions much like a door hinge, opening and closing the lower jaw with the help of strong, supportive muscles. 

This allows us to bite, chew, yawn, laugh, and speak. It’s a truly wonderful and important joint! But, it’s often subject to overuse, disorders, and dysfunction.

TMJ disorder refers to a range of conditions that affect this joint, leading to pain, discomfort, and difficulty in even tiny jaw movements. It can manifest as pain in the jaw joint, face, ear, or neck, as well as clicking, popping, or grating sounds during jaw movement.

Causes of TMJ Disorder

While many patients are fortunate enough to pinpoint a singular cause of their TMJ disorder, the exact causes of TMJ disorder are often multifactorial and can vary from person to person. Some common causes include:

Jaw Misalignment

The human mouth requires order to maintain harmony. Therefore, misalignments in the jaw joint and teeth may prove too disorderly for proper oral function. If misalignments go unchecked for too long, eventually the stress shows up in the jaw joint and teeth

As a result, patients may notice increased pain and dysfunction while chewing or speaking. Patients may also note popping, clicking, and dental sensitivity caused by TMJ dysfunction. 


Habitual teeth grinding or clenching (medically called bruxism) can strain the jaw joint and its associated muscles, contributing to TMJ disorder. Shockingly, experts believe that this condition affects up to 30% of the population in some way


Injury to the jaw or temporomandibular joint is fairly common. Some injuries (such as a dislocation or fracture) can greatly affect the way the jaw functions and feels, eventually leading to TMJ problems.


Certain types of arthritis (such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis) can affect the TMJ and cause pain and inflammation. This condition may worsen with age and use.

Risk Factors for TMJ Disorder

While TMJ disorder can affect anyone, some individuals are more susceptible to developing it due to various risk factors, including:


People who are assigned female at birth are often several times more likely to develop TMJ disorder. Experts believe that higher levels of estrogen may be to blame.


TMJ problems often occur between the ages of 20 and 40, though it can affect individuals of any age. Indeed, children often experience jaw discomfort, because they are more likely to grind their teeth at night.


It’s no secret that stress can affect almost every system in the human body. So, it’s no wonder that high levels of stress can lead to teeth clenching or grinding, increasing the risk of TMJ disorder.

Dental Conditions

Certain dental conditions (like missing teeth or misaligned teeth) can contribute to TMJ problems.

Factors That Can Aggravate TMJ Symptoms

Several factors can worsen the symptoms of TMJ, including:

Poor Posture

Slouching or maintaining an improper posture can strain the jaw muscles. As a result, poor posture can worsen TMJ pain. 

Chewing Habits 

Overusing the jaw can lead to or worsen a TMJ disorder. Therefore, it is best to limit certain chewing habits, like excessive gum chewing or consuming very hard or chewy foods.

Stress and Anxiety

Emotional stress and anxiety can contribute to teeth grinding or clenching. In turn, this can increase the pressure on the TMJ.

Home Remedies

While it is crucial to seek professional dental care for TMJ disorder, some home remedies may provide temporary relief. These include:

Applying Heat or Cold

Applying a warm compress or an ice pack to the affected area can help reduce pain and inflammation.

Gentle Jaw Exercises 

Gentle jaw exercises (as recommended by a healthcare professional) can help improve jaw mobility and relieve TMJ discomfort.

Relaxation Techniques

Stress management is key to fighting TMJ pain. Some relaxation techniques include deep breathing exercises and meditation.

Dental Treatments for TMJ Disorder

For individuals experiencing chronic or severe TMJ disorder, professional dental treatments can provide long-term relief. Some common dental treatments for TMJ disorder include:

Bite Adjustment

A dentist may recommend adjusting the bite through orthodontic treatments, dental crowns, or other dental procedures to alleviate TMJ symptoms.

Splints or Mouthguards

Custom-made splints or mouthguards can help reduce the impact of teeth grinding or clenching, providing relief for the TMJ.

Dental Restorations 

In some cases, a dentist may recommend dental restorations to improve oral function and deter TMJ disorder.

Physical Therapy 

Physical therapy techniques, including jaw exercises, ultrasound therapy, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), can help relieve TMJ pain and improve jaw functionality.


BOTOX injections work by limiting muscular activity around the jaw joints. As a result, patients can get lasting relief from overactive jaw muscles and joints. 

Discuss TMJ disorder with our dentist in Sacramento, CA, today!

TMJ disorder can cause significant discomfort and affect the quality of life for those experiencing it. If you’re ready to ditch the pain and get lasting relief, contact Dr. Timothy Mickiewicz today. You can reach our dental office in Sacramento at (916) 469-9178 or request appointments online anytime.