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Jaw joint disorders Dr Cathryn Madden Reviewed by Dr Cathryn Madden, Dentist

Jaws that lock, spasm or feel painful may be signs of a joint disorder. Find out some of the symptoms, risk factors and possible treatments.

If your jaw hurts or clicks while you’re chewing, there might be an issue with your jaw joints.

 Your joints are where bones and cartilage join together. In your jaw, the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects your jaws to one another and to your skull. They help you eat, speak, yawn and other actions that involve jaw movement.

If there’s a problem with your TMJ, it might cause pain, aches or difficulty moving your jaw. These problems are sometimes referred to as TMJ disorder or TMJD.

Symptoms of TMJD 

Jaw pain is a common sign of TMJD, but other symptoms might include:

  • pain near your ears or that spreads to your face
  • locking or spasming of the jaw (some people call this “lockjaw”)
  • clicking, popping, grating or other unusual sounds when you move your jaw
  • difficulty opening your mouth, whether you’re yawning, speaking or chewing food.
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TMJD risk factors 

Healthcare professionals may not always be able to pinpoint the exact cause of TMJD, or there may be multiple causes. However, there are some factors that may increase your risk of developing TMJD:

  • clenching or grinding your teeth (which could be stress-related)
  • an injury to your jaw or jaw joints
  • a misaligned bite
  • a change in your bite after dental work
  • medical conditions like arthritis.

Can a dentist help with jaw pain or TMJD? 

A dentist may be able to help you understand any problems with your jaw joints, address causes or manage symptoms. If you’re having a dental exam, you should mention any jaw pain, clenching or clicking.

A dentist might examine your joints and take x-rays or other scans of your teeth and jaws. From there, they’ll be better able to either recommend a treatment plan or refer you to a specialist.

For instance, if the dentist suspects that a misaligned jaw is contributing to your TMJD, they might recommend orthodontic treatment. They might also be able to adjust past dental work or dentures to improve alignment in your teeth or jaws.

If teeth grinding or jaw clenching is causing problems with your jaw joints, they might recommend treatment like a night splint or mouthguard.

How to help manage jaw pain and other TMJD symptoms at home 

You should speak with a doctor or dentist if you’re experiencing pain or functional issues in your jaw. But there are a few ways you can try to minimise discomfort yourself.

  • Avoid biting your nails, chewing gum, sucking on hard candy or other actions that might work your jaw joints unnecessarily.
  • Take over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen, depending on any instructions your doctor has given you.
  • Stick to soft foods or soups.
  • Cut food into smaller pieces.

Questions about jaw pain or jaw joint disorders?

Consider speaking with a healthcare professional. Search for a dentist near you.


*Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.

Go Back to Top

Australian and New Zealand Association of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons. TMJ disorders (fact sheet) [Online; last updated Mar 2015, accessed Aug 2019] Available from: www.anzaoms.org

Health Direct. Temporomandibular joint disorder [Online; last updated Aug 2017, accessed Aug 2019] Available from: www.healthdirect.gov.au

InformedHealth. How do joints work? [Online; last updated Jul 2018, accessed Aug 2019] Available from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Mayo Clinic. TMJ disorders: Diagnosis & treatment [Online; last updated Dec 2018, accessed Aug 2019] Available from: www.mayoclinic.org

Mayo Clinic. TMJ disorders: Symptoms & causes [Online; last updated Dec 2018, accessed Aug 2019] Available from: www.mayoclinic.org

Mouth Healthy. TMJ [Online; accessed Aug 2019] Available from: www.mouthhealthy.org

myDr. Temporomandibular joint disorders [Online; last updated Nov 2018, accessed Aug 2019] Available from: www.mydr.com.au

NHS. Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) [Online; last updated Aug 2017, accessed Aug 2019] Available from: www.nhs.uk

The purpose of this article is to promote better understanding of dental health topics. It’s not meant to replace professional advice or diagnosis. Always talk to a dentist, doctor or other qualified healthcare professional if you have a question about dental or medical conditions.

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