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Temporomandibular Disorder

Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a condition affecting the jaw joints and muscles. Although it can be painful it’s not usually serious and generally gets better on its own. There are a number of things that you can do to ease the symptoms and help the condition settle.
Signs that you have TMD include:

  • pain around your jaw, ear and temple
  • clicking, popping or grinding noises when you move your jaw
  • a headache around your temples
  • difficulty opening your mouth fully
  • your jaw locking when you open your mouth
  • the pain may be worse when chewing or when you feel stressed.

This short video will give you more information on the causes of TMD and what you can do to help yourself.


TMD can often be caused by the muscles and joints around your mouth being over worked. If you ran a marathon you would expect the muscles around your legs and your knee joints to be sore. If you over work the muscles around your mouth by clenching or grinding your teeth together, chewing gum or your nails this has a similar effect. It also means that when you try to do normal things such as eating or yawning the muscles and joints can get sore quite easily.

To reduce your pain…

  • eat soft food, like pasta, omelettes and soup
  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • hold ice packs or heat packs to the jaw, whichever feels better
  • massage the painful jaw muscles
  • try to find ways to relax


  • chew gum or pen tops
  • bite food with your front teeth
  • yawn too wide
  • bite your nails
  • clench your teeth – apart from when eating, your teeth should be apart
  • rest your chin on your hand
  • hold the phone between your shoulder and chin

It is useful if you can try to identify the underlying cause of your TMD as then you can focus on dealing with that issue. Some of the more common causes are described here. It is possible that more than one of these will be contributing to your TMD.

Tooth clenching or grinding

This is one of the most common causes of TMD.

It is not always clear why people clench or grind their teeth together. For some people it is simply a habit they have while for others it may be related to stress. It is also related to sleeping problems, smoking, drinking alcohol and caffeine and using certain drugs.

It is usually obvious if you grind your teeth as it can be noisy but clenching is more subtle. Check that your teeth are not touching, they should only be together when you are eating. You can clench or grind at night time, during the day or both.

Symptoms of tooth clenching & grinding

  • face, neck and shoulder pain
  • worn-down or broken teeth, which can cause increased sensitivity and loss of teeth and fillings
  • headaches
  • earache
  • disturbed sleep

To reduce tooth clenching…

  • find ways to relax – e.g. by doing breathing exercises, listening to music and taking regular exercise
  • try to improve your sleep by going to bed at the same time every night, relaxing before bedtime and making sure your bedroom is dark and quiet
  • take painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen if you have jaw pain or swelling
  • use an ice pack (or bag of frozen peas) wrapped in a tea towel for 20 to 30 minutes to help reduce jaw pain or swelling


  • smoke
  • drink too much alcohol
  • take drugs like ecstasy or cocaine
  • chew gum or eat hard foods if you have tooth or jaw pain

See a dentist if:

  • you have tooth damage or sensitive teeth
  • you have pain in your jaw, face or ear
  • your partner says you’re grinding your teeth in your sleep
  • you’re worried about your child grinding their teeth
  • you can’t get your mouth open properly

Your dentist may want to make you a bite guard to wear at night-time to protect your teeth and reduce how much you clench or grind.

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