TMJ Disorders

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Treatment San Diego

TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders are a family of problems related to the two joints (right and left) that connect your jaw to your skull. Symptoms may develop for many reasons.

You might clench or grind your teeth, tightening your jaw muscles and stressing the joint. Injuries or diseases such as arthritis may have damaged the joint directly or stretched and/or torn the muscle ligaments. As a result, the disk made of cartilage that cushions the joint can slip out of position. Whatever the cause, the results may include a misaligned bite, trouble opening your mouth wide, pain and a clicking or grating noise.

Since some types of TMJ problems can lead to more serious conditions, early detection and treatment are important.

No one treatment can resolve TMJ disorders completely. Treatment takes time to become effective. 

Do you have a TMJ disorder?

  • Are you aware of grinding or clenching your teeth?
  • Do you wake up with sore, stiff muscles around your jaws?
  • Do you have frequent headaches or neck aches?
  • Does the pain get worse when you clench your teeth?
  • Does stress make your clenching and pain worse?
  • Does your jaw click, pop, grate, catch, or lock when you open your mouth?
  • Is it difficult or painful to open your mouth, eat, or yawn?
  • Have you ever injured your neck, head, or jaws?
  • Have you had problems (such as arthritis) with other joints?
  • Do you have teeth that no longer touch when you bite?
  • Do your teeth meet differently from time to time?
  • Is it hard to use your front teeth to bite or tear food?
  • Are your teeth sensitive, loose, broken, or worn?

The more times you answered yes, the more likely it is that you have a TMJ disorder. Understanding TMJ disorders will also help you understand how they are treated.


The MVOMS surgical team uses various treatment options for TMJ disorders. Once an evaluation confirms a diagnosis, the doctor will determine the proper course of action. It is important to note that treatment always works best with a team approach of self-care joined with professional care.

The initial goals are to relieve any muscle spasms and joint pain. This is usually accomplished with a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, or muscle relaxant. Steroids can be injected directly into the joints to reduce pain and inflammation. Self-care treatments also can be effective and include:

  • Resting your jaw
  • Keeping your teeth apart when you are not swallowing or eating
  • Eating soft foods
  • Applying ice and heat
  • Exercising your jaw
  • Practicing good posture

Stress-management techniques such as biofeedback or physical therapy may also be recommended, as well as a temporary, clear plastic appliance known as a splint. A splint (or nightguard) fits over your top or bottom teeth and helps keep your teeth apart, thereby relaxing the muscles and reducing pain. Different types of appliances may be used for different purposes. A nightguard can help you stop clenching or grinding your teeth and reduce muscle tension at night, protecting the cartilage and joint surfaces. An anterior positioning appliance moves your jaw forward, relieves pressure on parts of your jaw, and aids in disk repositioning. It may be worn 24 hours a day to help your jaw heal. An orthotic stabilization appliance may be worn 24 hours a day or just at night to move your jaw into proper position. Appliances also help to protect wearers from tooth wear.

What about bite correction or surgery?

If your TMJ disorder has caused problems with how your teeth fit together, you may need treatment such as bite adjustment (equilibration), orthodontics with or without jaw reconstruction, or restorative dental work. Surgical options such as arthroscopy and open joint-repair restructuring are reserved for severe cases. The MVOMS team does not consider TMJ surgery unless the jaw can’t open, is dislocated and nonreducible, has severe degeneration, or the patient has undergone appliance treatment unsuccessfully.