Harvard Health Letter

A new way for TMJ

Aggressive — and frequently unnecessary — treatment of the temporomandibular joint has been replaced by caution in diagnosis and care.

In the 1970s and '80s, many people were told that their jaw ached because of a problem with their temporomandibular joint (TMJ), the hinge-like connection on either side of the head that allows the lower jawbone to move up and down. Physicians and dentists believed that the joint needed to be fixed to get rid of the pain — and, furthermore, that a bad bite (the medical term is malocclusion) was often the reason the joint didn't work properly, in much the same way that an ill-fitting shoe might throw an ankle, knee, or hip out of whack. As a result, jaws were operated on and all sorts of dental work — braces, crowns, the grinding down of teeth — was done to fix bad bites.

But since the late 1990s, the thinking about TMJ disorders has changed. Clinicians aren't nearly so quick to point a finger at a malocclusion or a faulty temporomandibular joint. There's more attention paid to sorting out the myriad sources of jaw and facial pain, which can range from a dental problem to migraine headaches to clenching the teeth because of anxiety and stress.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »