What is TMJ and How Does it Affect Your Smile?

how tmj affects your smile dentistry san diego

7 Min Read


Patients and doctors alike tend to misdiagnose or under-diagnose TMJ disorder as they believe its symptoms to be a result of other health issues. However, without proper diagnosis and treatment, symptoms will eventually progress and become problematic for those who experience them.

TMJ disorder refers to the inflammation and malfunction of the temporomandibular joint, which is located just in front of the ears and below the temples of your head.

If you think you have TMJ, you are probably experiencing a variety of symptoms. Although they may all be linked to the disorder, it’s important to receive a proper diagnosis from a dental health professional.

With a dental examination, your dentist can assess your maxillofacial structure and determine whether the pain you are experiencing is due to TMJ or something else entirely. That’s when you can discuss the best treatment option for your needs.

TMJ can result in rather debilitating symptoms that can impact your everyday life. If you believe you have fallen victim to the disorder, there are a few things you should know as you continue to search for the most effective treatment method.

What Is TMJ?

TMJ disorder comes as a result of malfunctioning in the temporomandibular joint, which is responsible for hinging your jaw together with your skull. Your ability to yawn, chew, speak, laugh, or smile is thanks to your temporomandibular joint, so when problems arise, it can become difficult to perform these normal functions.

When the temporomandibular joint stops working properly, you might become prone to headaches, earaches, pressure behind the eyes, or tension in the jaw. You may also notice that your jaw doesn’t come together comfortably or locks and creates popping noises when you open your mouth. These are all signs that you are experiencing some form of TMJ.

What Are the Most Common Symptoms of TMJ Disorder?

TMJ disorder can be slightly different from patient to patient, depending on the severity and its causes. Some of the most common symptoms of TMJ include:

  • Pain opening the mouth or while chewing
  • Swelling around the cheeks and jaw
  • Jaw locking in a certain position
  • Dizziness
  • Persistent headaches or toothaches
  • Uncomfortable biting position

What Causes TMJ?

Injury and Trauma

We’re still unsure of what exactly causes TMJ disorder, but there have been links between the onset of dental trauma and TMJ malfunctioning. Many people who have been in a car crash, for example, may experience pain in their jaw afterward due to TMJ associated with whiplash.

Stress-Induced Behavior

Teeth-grinding or jaw clenching at night can also create issues with the temporomandibular joint. Known as a stress-induced behavior, teeth-grinding places additional pressure on the jaw joint, creating tension and pain.


TMJ disorder can be caused by the spread of arthritis to the temporomandibular joint. Arthritis generally refers to any persistent pain or discomfort in the joints as a result of trauma, abnormal metabolism, or immune system dysfunction. Some of the most common forms of arthritis are degenerative arthritis, which is caused by injury, and osteoarthritis, which is caused by genetics and aging.

How Can I Prevent TMJ Disorder?

TMJ can be challenging to prevent, considering it can develop for a variety of reasons. If you know that you tend to grind your teeth or are prone to ear infections, you may want to take some extra precautions if you experience TMJ symptoms.

For example, wearing a mouthguard, or practicing routine jaw exercises can relieve joint tension and relax the jaw. 

How Can TMJ Affect Your Smile?

If left to progress, TMJ can cause a variety of aesthetic and functional problems in your smile. Disruption within this small (but vital) joint can:

Prevent Smiling

TMJ can quite literally keep you from smiling at all. Since the temporomandibular joint is responsible for your ability to smile, any pain in the area may make movement in the mouth difficult.

Destroy Tooth Enamel

TMJ can also create additional wear on your teeth, particularly if you have the disorder as a result of teeth grinding. As your jaws continue to place pressure on one another, your tooth enamel will begin to break down and eventually cause your teeth to fracture.

Shift the Position of Teeth

Additionally, your teeth will begin to shift to accommodate the added pressure. This movement will disturb your bite position and potentially increase the amount of pain you already have.

If you are noticing damage to your teeth as a result of TMJ, restorative or orthodontic solutions may be necessary to correct your alignment and straighten your teeth. Treatments like crowns, dental implants, porcelain veneers, or braces can each help improve your dentition.

How Is TMJ Diagnosed?

It’s important to locate a dentist who has experience recognizing and treating TMJ. Because the disorder is often misdiagnosed, an inaccurate treatment option is often prescribed, which can either be ineffective or make the disorder worse.

It’s important to receive a proper diagnosis so that you can eliminate pain as quickly as possible.

At La Jolla Cosmetic Dentistry & Orthodontics, we start your diagnosis by listening to your dental concerns and locating the areas where you have pain. We’ll perform a dental examination and take digital x-rays so that we can get a better idea of what is causing your discomfort.

We will also assess your jaw movement and listen for any abnormal sounds your jaw might be making. Once we have determined that your facial pain is a result of TMJ, we can begin discussing available treatment options.

Why Is It so Difficult to Diagnose TMJ?

It can be difficult to diagnose TMJ disorder because its symptoms resemble many other dental and joint issues, including:

  • Lyme disease
  • Sinusitis
  • Otitis
  • Arthritis
  • Muscle disorders
  • Dental disease

Some of these issues can be the cause of TMJ, and so it can be unclear whether you should treat the jaw or another matter entirely. Although this may seem complicated, TMJ can be diagnosed accurately by an experienced and diligent professional.

What TMJ Treatments Are Available?

Depending on the origins of your particular disorder — whether you are experiencing TMJ as a result of teeth-grinding, dental trauma, a poor bite position, or arthritis — you have several treatment options that can help alleviate your discomfort. Before you move forward with your treatment, your dentist will advise you on which treatment will be most effective for you. Your options may include:

Wearing a Night Guard

If you grind your teeth, you may benefit from a night guard that you wear as you sleep. The device provides a layer of cushioning between your upper and lower dental arches and absorbs the pressure as they clench together. A night guard can ease much of the pain from TMJ and is customized to fit comfortably within your mouth.


BOTOX® is another method of treatment that has recently been shown to alleviate TMJ pain. BOTOX® is used as a temporary muscle relaxant that commonly aids in wrinkle reduction, but can also be used to calm jaw muscles if they are contracting from a malfunctioning temporomandibular joint. With regular injections every three months, your muscles will continue to relax and allow your jaw to move freely.

Adult Orthodontics

To treat issues with your bite position, accelerated adult orthodontics can help return your teeth to a comfortable alignment and keep TMJ symptoms from worsening. Treatment may include clear braces and other aesthetically-pleasing orthodontic solutions to help shift teeth back into place.

Medication and Physical Therapy

Other treatments include oral medications, such as anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants, physical therapy to help strengthen the jaw muscles and make the pain more tolerable.


If it is determined that your case of TMJ disorder is exceptionally severe, your surgeon may suggest that you undergo jaw surgery. The type of surgery you undergo will depend on the issues that you are experiencing. Some surgical methods prevent the jaw from locking, while others may be more effective for reducing the friction within the joint.

What Is the Best Treatment for TMJ?

If you think you may have TMJ disorder, you may want to visit a dentist to get a thorough examination. Once your dentist has confirmed that you have TMJ, they can advise you on which treatment plan will work best for you. The treatment you use will be specific to your symptoms.


The treatment option recommended for you is based on the symptoms you are experiencing, their cause, and their severity. Several treatment options may be used in combination with one another in order to produce the most effective result.

Can TMJ Be Permanent if I Don’t Treat It?

TMJ, in its milder forms, can be relatively simple to treat. As time progresses, the severity of the symptoms you experience may become significantly more severe and difficult to treat effectively. TMJ can also cause other health issues that will also need to be treated, such as dental degradation.

Want to Learn More?

If you believe you are suffering from TMJ and would like more information about the disorder, contact La Jolla Cosmetic Dentistry & Orthodontics at 858-295-0603 and receive a professional diagnosis with Dr. Kohani. Schedule a consultation today to learn more!