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Top 5 Signs of a TMJ Problem

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is one of many potential sources of head pain or face pain. Yet pain alone is not an indication that there is problem with the TMJ. But how do you know if you have a TMJ problem? The infographic below lists a myriad of indications for rehabilitation to balance the muscles and joints of the jaw, head, neck, and shoulder. Additionally, these top five signs that you have a TMJ problem are the most important symptoms which can signal that one’s pain is coming from TMJ dysfunction (TMD). Specifically, TMD is a group of conditions, often painful, that affect the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).


  1. Pain in the face, neck, or shoulders. An occasional, painless click of the jaw does not indicate of a major problem. Yet returning pain indicates a problem that needs to be evaluated by a health professional.
  2. Limited mouth opening. The TMJ should allow for three fingers, vertically aligned, to fit between the upper and lower teeth. This quick measure published in the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association is consistent with average maximal mouth opening. If you find yourself avoiding certain foods, you may be living with limited mouth opening. Also, a habit of moving your jaw a certain way to allow for full opening or to “unlock” the jaw indicates abnormal function of the TMJ.
  3. Painful clicking or locking when opening or closing the mouth. Each jaw joint articulates with the skull in a manner that allows for both wide mouth opening and crushing strength. Yet, joint inflammation and muscle imbalance results in painful movement. Locking of the jaw can be a scary experience, and painful clicking is often a distressing symptom. Both can occur when the joint is inflammed.
  4. A significant change in the way the upper and lower teeth fit together. If the TMJ is swollen, the joint will not be properly aligned while closed. This poor alignment may be felt as the teeth not fitting as they usually do. Sometimes, a pair of opposing teeth touch prior to all the others upon slowly closing the mouth. This indicates an alignment problem from joint swelling.
  5. Headaches, ear aches, tooth aches, dizziness, hearing problems, and/or difficulty swallowing. Pain can be a confusing experience, as the area of pain is not always the area of problem. This referral of pain adds to the confusion. (See the common patterns of muscle trigger point referral graphic below). Many times, people are finally diagnosed with a TMJ problem after thorough evaluation of a healthy but still painful ear or tooth.


For most people, pain or discomfort from a TMJ problem is temporary. Unfortunately, others slowly develop these symptoms, worsening over time. Effective rehabilitation first requires an accurate diagnosis. Fortunately, there are effective non-surgical treatment options for people experiencing symptoms associated with TMD. Manual and rehabilitative procedures can improve how one speaks, breathes, and chews food. By allowing the movement system to work better, the movement system can then feel better.


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Dr. Richard L. Cole, DC, DACNB, DAIPM, FIACN, FICC
Dr. Jeffrey D. Luebbe, DC, CCRD, CCSP
Dr. W. Steven Vollmer, DC, DAAPM
Dr. Bradford J. Cole, DC, MS, CSCS
Dr. J. Colby Poston, DC
2845 Summer Oaks Dr., Memphis, TN 38134
(901) 377-2340

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