TMJ Causes

Just as temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ or TMD) have many symptoms, so, too, they also have many causes. There are so many causes of TMJ, and often little overlap between people who develop TMJ as a result of these different causes, it contributes to the sense that TMJ is not one disorder, but several that share many common characteristics. Often, understanding the cause of your TMJ can help you understand which treatments will best help you get relief.

During your consultation and diagnosis, we can talk about the causes of your TMJ and link them to the best TMJ treatment option for you. To discuss the specific causes of your TMJ with a Dallas neuromuscular dentist, please call (817) 481-6888 today for an appointment with Dr. Becky Coats at BITE in Grapevine.

TMJ can have many various causes.

TMJ Causes

Some of the most commonly cited causes of TMJ include:

  • Bad bite (malocclusion)
  • Injury to the jaw or teeth
  • Teeth grinding
  • Gum chewing
  • Arthritis
  • Sensitization

It’s important to note that not all of these causes are widely recognized. Research into TMJ has yielded many contradictory findings about the condition, leading to controversy about pretty much all the potential causes of TMJ.

It’s also important to note that many cases of TMJ seem to develop without any discernible cause.

Malocclusion: the First Cause of TMJ

Malocclusion, also called a bad bite, was the first cause identified when TMJ was first described (although it was initially called Costen’s syndrome).

The theory is that when your teeth don’t fit together properly, your jaw muscles cannot reach their optimal rest position. This causes them to remain tense and continue to fight to achieve that rest position, even though the teeth and jaw won’t let them. The result can be muscle soreness and tension, as well as damage to the teeth and jaw joint.

As the muscles fight to pull the jaw into the position they desire, they not only cause wear on the teeth and joint, they can put pressure on other structures in the head and face, especially nerves. Since the jaw muscles stretch over most of the face, this can create many different forms of facial pain, from jaw pain to headaches.

Trauma to the Jaw or Teeth

Trauma can also cause TMJ. Each temporomandibular joint has a disc of cartilage that helps cushion the bones from rubbing and scraping against one another. However, when the joint experiences trauma, the disc can be displaced from between the bones. As the disc moves in and out of place, it can cause the clicking or popping sound that many people associate with TMJ. Eventually, the disc may not move back in place, but, instead may cause the jaw to lock.

When the cushioning disc is out of place, it doesn’t properly cushion the two bones, which can lead to further damage to the jaw joint. If not detected and treated early enough, this joint damage may be irreversible, with only surgery as a viable TMJ treatment.

Trauma to the jaw joint may not require physical contact. Many people develop TMJ as a result of whiplash injuries in car accidents. In this type of injury, your restraint system–seat belt–holds your body in place but your head and neck whip forward, experiencing additional strain. Your jaw also experiences strain as the entire jaw is supported just by two joints and the muscles. This can damage the jaw joints or strain the muscles.

Teeth Grinding

Teeth grinding can be one of the causes of TMJ.As with malocclusion, teeth grinding is a controversial cause of TMJ. Since many people only start grinding their teeth as a result of TMJ, there is dispute over whether this is a cause of TMJ or an effect of undiagnosed TMJ that gets blamed when the condition worsens.

The theory is that teeth grinding, like malocclusion, stresses the bite muscles, causing pain in the muscles, damaging teeth, and, straining the jaw joints, potentially even displacing the cushioning disc between the bones.

Stress can be one of the main reasons why people grind their teeth. As a result, people often put “stress” as one of the causes of TMJ, although teeth grinding is more likely the actual mechanism that causes TMJ.

Gum Chewing

Gum chewing is also a controversial cause of TMJ. However, there is a great deal of evidence that people can develop sometimes very serious jaw joint damage as a result of a chronic chewing habit.

Like teeth clenching, chronic gum chewing can lead to pain in the jaw muscles. In addition, the repeated strain of biting down on the hard gum material can put a strain on the jaw joint. This can lead to displacement of the disc and therefore jaw joint wear and damage.

Like teeth clenching, chronic gum chewing can lead to pain in the jaw muscles. In addition, the repeated strain of biting down on the hard gum material can put a strain on the jaw joint. This can lead to displacement of the disc and therefore jaw joint wear and damage.


Arthritis is when your joints experience degeneration and wear. There are two common types of arthritis. First, there is osteoarthritis, when your joints are impacted by the cumulative wear and tear related to their constant demands. This can cause the cushioning disc to wear down and even disappear. Osteoarthritis typically affects older people, although it can be hastened by teeth grinding, gum chewing, and other activities that stress the jaw joint.

Another type of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which your joints are attacked by your immune system. The temporomandibular joints are among those commonly attacked.


Sensitization is one of the newest causes of TMJ, an attempt to reconcile the sometimes inexplicable way that people either do or don’t develop TMJ based on the same causal events and risk factors. The theory behind this cause is that some people just develop a heightened sensitivity to normal stimuli. Therefore, they experience pain when there is no objective source of pain. The sources of pain could be normal motion of the jaw or even their normal resting state.

There are two potential types of sensitization that are implicated in TMJ. Peripheral sensitization is when the nerves in the jaw, head, and elsewhere transmit pain signals even when there is no painful stimuli present. The other type is central sensitization, when the brain interprets nonpainful stimuli as being painful.

What Caused Your TMJ?

We will use our comprehensive diagnostic system to identify the exact nature of your TMJ. If we can treat it, we will, but if you will respond better to treatment elsewhere, we will refer you to the best professional to treat your TMJ.

To learn what’s causing your TMJ in Dallas, please call (817) 481-6888 or contact us online for an appointment with TMJ dentist Dr. Becky Coats at BITE in Grapevine.