Get to Know Your Temporomandibular Joint

Your TMJs are sliding hinge joints in the jaw that allow your mouth to open, close, move forward and back as well as side to side. These joints are essential as they help you eat, speak, and make facial expressions.

TMJs are unique in their complexity. They not only move in a variety of ways, but they have to move together in ways that other joints in the body don’t. Plus, their presence at a crowded crossroads of the body where nerves, muscles, and blood vessels intersect makes it easy for problems with the temporomandibular joint to impact your body in surprising ways.

woman in yellow shirt thankful for TMJ treatment in Houston

What Is a TMJ Disorder?

A TMJ disorder occurs when the TMJ or muscles surrounding it are dysfunctional. This disorder causes painful symptoms for the temporomandibular disorder patient and, if left untreated, can cause significant oral health problems. The disorder can affect anyone but is most common in:

  • Women
  • Patients who grind their teeth (bruxism)
  • Patients with high stress levels
  • Adults between ages 20-40
  • Women
  • Patients who grind their teeth (bruxism)
  • Patients with high stress levels
  • Adults between ages 20-40

According to some estimates, about 30% of people will experience TMJ over the course of their lives. For many people, TMJ symptoms resolve with simple home care. For others, symptoms won’t resolve, recur frequently, or worsen. These people need professional care to protect their oral and overall health.

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What Are the Common Symptoms?

While symptoms can extend off of this list, these are the most common symptoms among Houston patients with a TMJ disorder.

Jaw Pain

A common TMJ disorder symptom is widespread pain in the jaw joint or jaw muscles. This pain can occur as you open and close your jaw, or it might be spontaneous. It can take many forms, from a sudden, electric sting to a dull, constant ache.

Difficulty While Chewing

A misaligned bite can make it challenging to chew since your teeth don’t meet properly. This misalignment can lead to pain and discomfort.

Severe Headaches

Temporomandibular disorder patients may experience severe headaches and even migraines from the strain placed on the TMJ.

young man shows off his happy, healthy bite with TMJ treatment

Ringing in the Ears

Since the temporomandibular joints are right by your ears, and may be connected to the delicate structures of the ear, the disorder can cause earaches, ringing (tinnitus), and other ear problems.


Since damage to the inner ear can occur from temporomandibular disorders, patients may find they have occasional dizziness and vertigo.

Neck Pain

The inflammation and pain your temporomandibular joints experience can spread to surrounding areas, such as the neck.

Restricted Jaw Movement

Temporomandibular disorder patients may find that opening and closing the jaw is a difficult task. Some may even have a jaw that locks up.

Jaw Sounds

The strained temporomandibular joints can cause clicking, popping, even grinding sounds from the jaw when you open and close your mouth to chew and speak.

Excessive Tooth Wear

TMJ disorders can lead to accelerated tooth wear. This might be simply wearing away the chewing surface, tooth chipping, or serious cracks in your teeth.

young woman with a newly aligned bite thanks to TMJ treatment

What Causes TMJ Disorders?

Misaligned Bite

Your jaw will try to correct a misaligned bite while you eat, speak, and even sleep. As the jaw forces itself into position, unnecessary stress is put on the TMJs.

Grinding Teeth

Patients with bruxism grind their teeth or clench their jaw during the day, night, or both. Clenching and grinding the teeth causes stress on the jaw, resulting in a TMD.

Physical Trauma

Physical trauma to the jaw or muscles of the jaw can result in a TMJ disorder. For instance, you can develop a TMD if whiplash during a car accident dislocates your jaw joint.


Arthritis can cause pain to joints all over the body, including the jaw. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in the jaw, but other types of arthritis also affect the TMJ.

Connective Tissue Disease

Connective tissue diseases can cause problems in the temporomandibular joint area and the TMJ itself. Abnormalities in the tissue, bone, and cartilage can all cause TMJ disorders.

Solutions for TMD Patients

Relief from painful TMD symptoms is possible with treatment of the TMJ. Our offices in Spring, TX, offer the following solutions:


A mouthguard, otherwise known as a bite splint, is an effective, non-invasive treatment for TMD patients. The splint can help the patient’s jaw alignment during sleep and provide a cushion between the teeth for patients that tend to grind their teeth. The splint is typically recommended for wear during the night.


While the mouthguard can help align the jaw, sometimes orthodontic measures can help with a misaligned bite causing the TMD. Our offices in Houston, offer Invisalign® to help correct a misaligned bite or crooked teeth causing the TMJ disorder. We may refer you to a specialist for other types of orthodontics.

Full Mouth Reconstruction

Sometimes rebuilding damaged teeth can restore balance to your bite and help to align the jaw. If you have extensive damage to your teeth because of TMJ disorders or tooth trauma, we might recommend full mouth reconstruction.

If these treatments don’t provide relief, you may have a severe case of TMJ that can benefit from more extensive or surgical treatment options.

man sitting an desk, smiling thankful for TMJ solutions

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TMJ Disorders Can Cause Other Dental Health Problems

The only way to prevent your TMD from getting worse and causing other dental health problems is by seeking out treatment. Masking the temporomandibular joint disorder symptoms with pain medication will only temporarily solve your problem. If left untreated, a TMD can cause:

Worn Teeth

Tooth enamel can wear away over time from clenching and grinding the teeth. Worn teeth can result in sensitive, fractured, and chipped teeth. Worn teeth can also lead to a misaligned bite.

Bone and Cartilage Loss

The cartilage that supplies a cushiony buffer between your jaw joints and skull can wear away if a TMD is left untreated. Also, if your TMJ causes tooth loss, jaw atrophy can occur.

Missing Teeth

In extreme cases of TMJ disorders, patients may lose their teeth from the constant pressure put upon them. Cracked teeth can get infected, and if the crack extends to the root, they may require extraction. Gum recession can also lead to tooth loss.

Gum Recession

Clenching and grinding your teeth puts unwanted pressure on your gums as well as the teeth and jaw. This pressure can lead to gum recession and exposed tooth roots. From here, you’re more likely to develop decay and increased sensitivity.

Get TMJ Treatment in Houston

Drs. Stephens, Gatewood, Pagano, and Swann offer top-of-the-line dentistry for you and your entire family. Our experienced team is affiliated with a number of prestigious organizations, including:

  • The American Dental Association
  • The American Academy of General Dentistry
  • The Texas Dental Association
  • The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry
  • The National Dental Honor Society
  • CEREC Doctors
  • The American Dental Association
  • The American Academy of General Dentistry
  • The Texas Dental Association
  • The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry
  • The National Dental Honor Society
  • CEREC Doctors

If you are looking to beautify your smile, the Houston cosmetic dentists at Stephens & Gatewood Dentistry can help. We have extensive training in cosmetic dentistry, and nearly 100 years of combined experience. Read the reviews from our happy patients. Check out our before and after photos and you’ll see the beautiful work we’ve achieved for our patients.

We offer multiple financing plans to help you fit the cosmetic dentistry you desire into your budget.

When you’re ready to achieve your beautiful new smile, please call (281) 320-2000 or use our online form to request an appointment at Stephens & Gatewood Dentistry, serving the Houston area from our two locations in Spring, TX.