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Symptoms of Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Dysfunction

by Ron Kurtus (11 August 2005)

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is where the jaw joins the skull. Problems or dysfunction of this joint can result in jaw clicking, headaches, sinus problems and even loss of hearing. Injury or excessive stress on the joint typically cause the problem and s result in the symptoms you may be experiencing.

There are direct and indirect symptoms that indicate temporomandibular joint dysfunction. If you suffer from some of these symptoms, there are chances you have TMJ problems.

You should evaluate all of your symptoms to make sure your problem is related to TMJ and not to some other ailment. Note that although doctors are supposed to do such an analysis, often they don't. Also, the more information you can provide, the better it is for determining the source of your problem.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions. Health Disclaimer

(Also see: Causes of TMJ Dysfunction and Treatment of TMJ Dysfunction)

Direct symptoms

The direct symptoms come from injury or aggravation to the joint itself. These include:


If the TMJ has been severely irritated or there is a displaced disc at the joint, you may hear your jaw joint clicking, popping or snapping when you chew or even talk. This sound may be loud enough that others can even hear it. Although the clicking may not be painful, it is an indication that your jaw joint is not functioning properly.


Sometimes the jaw may actually lock or catch when opened. You must then move the jaw to one side or another in order until you feel a loud pop when the jaw unlocks. This can be uncomfortable, especially if it happens often.

Change in bite

Another symptom of TMJ is a noticeable change in your bite or dental occlusion. If the TMJ disc goes out of place, the parts do not fit together properly, you may find that the bite of your teeth is different and even uncomfortable.

Indirect symptoms

Indirect symptoms coming from TMJ dysfunction include:

Tender facial muscles

Waking up with tender facial muscles is an indication that you are clenching your jaw during sleep, and that can case TMJ.


Unexplained headaches is a common symptom of a TMJ problem. Usually a TMJ-caused headache is located in the temples or in the back of the head.

Pain in neck

You may feel pain in the shoulders and back due to muscle contraction, related to teeth clenching and TMJ.

Sinus stuffiness

A stuffy feeling in the sinus area can be a symptom of TMJ. A doctor examining your sinus usually will not see any congestion. A doctor unaware of this TMJ symptom may be puzzled and even discount the fact that your sinus feels stuffy. (Don't you hate it when they imply it is just your imagination?)

Hearing problems

Since the temporomandibular joint is close to the ears, injury or irritation to the TMJ can cause various ear symptoms, such as earaches, loss of hearing, and tinnitus or ringing in the ear.

Note that these hearing symptoms are not only a result of a TMJ dysfunction. They can be caused by problems completely separated from TMJ. For example, tinnitus may be caused by working around loud noises or taking too much aspirin or ibuprofen.

For this reason, many TMJ sufferers often first see their family doctor and an ear specialist before even considering seeing a dentist. Unfortunately, many ear specialists do not seem to consider TMJ and would rather prescribe a hearing aid as a solution.


If you are occasionally dizzy or disoriented, it may be an indication of TMJ dysfunction. This is because the inner ear--which is the area for the sense of balance--may be inflamed due to the TMJ problem.

Sensitive teeth

Your teeth may become sensitive because of clenching or grinding your teeth when the disc of the TMJ is displaced.

Sometimes people will see their dentist with the complaint of pain in the teeth, and the dentist does not recognize a TMJ problem. Unnecessary root canals and even tooth extractions may be performed.


Sometimes you may become depressed as a result of TMJ. This may be a result of lack of sleep, continual pain, and the fact that no one really believes there is a problem.

Light sensitivity

In some cases you may also suffer with photophobia or light sensitivity. A dislocated TMJ may produce pain in and behind the eye, which can cause sensitivity to light. Blurred vision and eye muscle twitching are possible extreme TMJ symptoms.


If you suspect a TMJ problem due to some of the above symptoms, you can perform a few self-tests to help verify your diagnosis.

Temple muscles

Feel your temples and then clench your jaw. You'll feel a muscle tense up under your fingers at the temples. Relax your jaw and press on that area. If you feel pain or tenderness, it indicates that you are tensing your jaw too much and the muscles are tender. This could result in TMJ problems.

Fingers in ears

Another test is to put the ends of your little fingers into your ears and press them forward, toward the front of the ear. Open and close your mouth several times. If you feel the head of your jawbone pushing against your fingers or feel a clicking, you could have the TMJ disorder.


Be aware of your body and any of the symptoms mentioned. Often you become so used to them that they go unnoticed.


Direct symptoms of TMJ dysfunction come from injury or aggravation to the joint itself. These include clicking sounds when you open or close your mouth, locking of the jaw, or noticeable change in bite. Indirect symptoms include facial muscle tenderness, persistent headaches, pain in the neck and shoulders, stuffiness in your sinus area, hearing problems, dizziness and sensitive teeth. Observe your symptoms before consulting a doctor or dentist.

Don't sweat the small stuff, and remember that everything is small stuff

Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials


TMJ Disorder -

Symptoms of TMJ -

General Health Resources


(Notice: The School for Champions may earn commissions from book purchases)

Taking Control of TMJ by Robert O. Uppgaard DDS, New Harbinger Publications (1999) $14.95

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff and It's All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson, Hyperion (1997) $14.95 - Classic best-seller on simple ways to keep the little things from taking over your life

Eliminate TMJ and Teeth Grinding (Audio CD) by Scott Sulak, Change For Good (2003) $15.95

Top-rated books on TMJ


SleepRight Adjustable Night Guard from Splintek-PPI (2004) $69.95

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