TMJ, TMD, and Chronic Jaw Pain

If your jaw is clicking or you have jaw pain the experts at Town Center Dentistry in Rancho Bernardo can help. 

It’s your favorite burger. It’s fat, juicy, and piled high with “the works.” You think about it often, and when you do, you can almost smell it, almost taste it. But unfortunately, you no longer get to experience the joy of eating it because your jaw hurts too much to open up that wide. And the last thing you want is to eat the darn thing with a fork.

At Town Center Dentistry, we can help.  Over the years, we’ve helped hundreds of San Diegans and Southern Californians get back to eating the foods they love by addressing both the symptoms and the causes of their TMD.

What is TMD or TMJ?

The acronym TMD (Temporomandibular Disorder) refers to problems with your jaw and the muscles in your face that control it. Many people also refer to it as TMJ, although that acronym refers to the temporomandibular joint itself (the hinge that connects your jaw to the temporal bones of your skull) rather than the disorder.

TMD often results in pain that limits your ability to open your jaw wide enough to function or eat normally.  It can also cause ringing in the ears, and clicking, popping, or grating sounds in the jaw. TMD may also result in chronic headaches, earaches, tinnitus (ringing of the ear), and pain in the neck, back, or upper shoulders.

Common causes of TMD


Stress causes tension in the body. This tension causes some people to grind or clench their teeth. They may do it during sleep, in heavy traffic, or during strenuous exercise. When this clenching is both excessive and habitual, it puts a lot of pressure on the temporalmandibular joint. Then the muscles around it go into spasm, and this causes the pain, often in the jaw and facial area.   

An improper bite

When your teeth don’t line up the way they should, the “bad bite” causes an imbalance in the jaw-to-skull relationship. This imbalance twists the jaw into a strained position, which can cause pain in the jaw as well as the shoulders, neck, and back.

Acute injuries

A serious blow to the jaw can cause TMD.  Whiplash from an accident or any other injury to the muscles of your head and neck can also lead to TMD. These traumas may cause the cartilage disc (which acts as the cushion in the ball and socket joint of your jaw) to tear or pull forward. This may result in clicking or popping sounds in the joint, as well as pain in the neck, back, and shoulders.  

Osteoarthritis or Synovitis

Osteoarthritis is known as the “wear and tear” arthritis, and when found in the temporalmandibular joint, it means that the joint’s cushioning (the cartilage) has been lost, resulting in the change of the bones’ shapes. Synovitis is the swelling inside the jaw joint. Both cause strain on the muscles surrounding the jaw and result in pain.

What we can do to help

At Town Center Dentistry in Rancho Bernardo, our world-class neuromuscular therapy experts understand the complex relationships of the bones, joints, muscles, and nerves in your face and neck. With a simple physical examination of your face and jaw, combined with your description of your symptoms, we can begin the process of diagnosing the cause of your TMD – and treating it.

Treatment may include:

  • Pain modification

    • Resting the joint
    • Anti-inflammatory, non-steroidal drugs (ibuprofen or aspirin)
    • Applying moist heat to the painful areas
  • Relaxation techniques

    • Biofeedback or relaxation training (to help manage stress)
  • Appliance therapy

    • A mouth guard (to help protect your teeth from grinding and clenching)
  • Bite adjustment

    • Stabilizing and re-aligning your bite with a temporary orthotic device
    • Coronoplasty (the smoothing and reshaping of your enamel)
    • Removable overlay partials (permanent orthotics that fit over the back teeth)
    • Reconstruction (making the teeth higher by using crowns)
    • Orthodontics (braces)

Keep in mind that to correctly diagnose the cause of your TMD, we may need to take x-rays and make a cast of your teeth. We may also recommend a CT or an MRI scan.  Whatever is needed, you can count on our neuromuscular therapy experts to take the time to help determine the cause and the best plan to treat your TMD.

Just imagine

Imagine waking up in the morning without pain in your jaw, neck, or shoulders. Imagine opening your mouth wide for a bite of your favorite burger piled high with “the works.” That is the freedom we want for you: the freedom to live life without the pain of TMD.

If you think you may have TMD or if you’re experiencing symptoms similar to those mentioned above, give us a call. At Town Center Dentistry, we may not be able to remove all the pains from your life, but we promise to do what we can.