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Temporomandibular joint disorder—also called TMJ or TMD—describes a group of conditions that affect the muscles in your jaw. The temporomandibular joint is the main cause of pain in these cases. These joints connect the lower jaw (mandible) to the skull. Located on each side of your head, these joints work together so you can do simple, everyday things like chewing your food, speaking to a friend or swallowing your favorite drink.

TMJ disorders often cause tenderness in the jaw, facial pain and difficulty moving the joint. You may also notice a clicking, grating, and/or popping noise when you move your jaw. Others may experience lockjaw or difficulty opening their mouth all the way.

While there is no known cause, TMJ affects millions of Americans. Trauma to the jaw or face usually plays a role in the development of this condition, but these conditions are also believed to contribute to the development of TMJ:

  • Osteoarthritis: Over time, joints become prone to arthritis—this is no different for the temporomandibular joints.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: Inflammation in the temporomandibular joints can cause cartilage to break down, and joints become susceptible to erosion.
  • Bruxism: Teeth grinding can cause teeth to wear down and become misaligned, causing chewing muscles to change.
  • Clenching: Stress is often associated with clenching, which can cause facial pain around the temporomandibular joints.