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Common Causes of TMJ

About 10 million Americans suffer from temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), a chronic condition that causes jaw pain and headaches. Fortunately, there are treatments for TMJ. The first step is determining the underlying cause.

At The Snoring & Sleep Apnea Center, Katharine Christian, DMD, offers patient-centered, customized treatment for TMJ, focused on relieving painful symptoms and improving overall jaw health. If you have TMJ, here’s what you should know about its causes and its treatments.

TMJ 101

Your temporomandibular joints are located in either jaw, near your ears. Each joint contains a disc of rubbery cartilage that protects the bones that comprise the joint, while also supporting normal jaw function. 

TMJ develops when the cartilage discs begin to wear away, exposing the bones to wear and tear and increasing friction inside the joint. As the cartilage damage progresses, you start to feel pain in your jaw when you bite, chew, or even speak. Other common TMJ symptoms include:

Many people with TMJ also experience “sticking” sensations when they chew or yawn, along with clicking noises when they open or close their jaws.

Without treatment, TMJ can lead to serious jaw problems. Over time, painful symptoms can make it hard to eat or speak. People with advanced TMJ may find that their jaw problems even interfere with their ability to swallow or breathe.

TMJ risk factors

While cartilage wear and tear inside the joint is a main cause of painful symptoms, there are risk factors that increase your chances of developing the condition. Those risk factors include:

Dr. Christian diagnoses TMJ by reviewing your medical history, discussing your symptoms, and performing a physical exam of your jaw.

Treatment options for TMJ

TMJ affects people in different ways, so your treatment plan will be customized specifically for your needs. Dr. Christian offers several options for treating TMJ to enable each patient to find much-needed relief.

Home care

Home care options can relieve muscle tension in your jaw to help reduce both pain and inflammation. Applying heat, following a soft diet for a period of time, self-massage, and stretching exercises may ease painful symptoms while improving overall jaw mobility.


Over-the-counter pain relievers can be used to reduce both discomfort and inflammation inside the joint. Depending on your symptoms, Dr. Christian may prescribe muscle relaxers or corticosteroids for more severe inflammation.

TMJ appliances

Dental appliances can relieve stress on your jaw, so your muscles have a chance to relax. Some appliances are worn at night to prevent teeth grinding while you sleep. Other appliances are designed to reduce pressure and maintain optimal alignment.

Don’t let painful TMJ symptoms take a toll on your life or your health. Call The Snoring & Sleep Apnea Center in Seattle, Washington, or use our online form to request an appointment today.

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