What Is the Main Cause of TMJ?


The temporomandibular joints, or TMJ, connect the lower jaw to the skull and act as a sliding hinge whenever we open and close our mouths. Most of the time, these joints cause no issues, but when they’re not functioning properly, they can lead to chronic pain and impact our quality of life. This is called TMJ disorder, or TMD. There are several potential causes of TMD, and understanding which one is at the root of your pain is critical to finding a treatment that works. 

Teeth Grinding or Clenching

Many people mistakenly believe that stress is the main cause of TMJ pain, but this is only partially true. Although stress does not directly cause TMD, it does lead to muscle tension throughout the body in many people, causing them to clench or grind their teeth at night. Clenching and grinding puts strain on the temporomandibular joints and teeth, which can eventually lead to TMD.

Although we encourage you to make lifestyle changes to reduce your stress levels, we also offer solutions that relieve discomfort by preventing teeth grinding and jaw clenching at night.

Joint Injury

An injury to the joint or jaw is another frequent cause of TMJ disorder. TMJ pain can result from even minor injuries to the muscles that surround the temporomandibular joints. A blow to the head or an accident can cause the disc between the ball and socket of the joint to dislocate, or the jaw can be misaligned, resulting in chronic pain.

When there is an injury, pain may go away on its own as the body heals from the trauma. Other times, the injury permanently changes the joint and requires treatment for long-term relief. In some cases, this might be undergoing TMJ surgery.


The temporomandibular joints, like other joints in the body, can become compromised by arthritis. Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can affect the TMJ, causing one or both joints to deteriorate over time. We don't expect the symptoms of arthritis to improve or reverse without medical intervention because it is a degenerative disease.

We can work with your doctor or rheumatologist to address the underlying cause of your TMJ pain, while also providing relief for the symptoms you're experiencing right now. 

Imbalance of the Spine

No part of the body functions in isolation, and the temporomandibular joints are no exception. The jaw muscles work together with the neck muscles, and the neck connects to the shoulders and spine, so it’s easy to see how when one of these is dysfunctional, the entire system becomes unbalanced. This is also why so many patients with TMJ disorder have headaches, neck pain, and stiffness in the upper back and shoulders.

If your spine is out of alignment and we believe that it’s impacting the alignment of your upper and lower jaw, we can collaborate with other health professionals to take a holistic approach to improving your chronic pain symptoms.

Learn More About the Causes of TMJ Disorder

If you have TMJ disorder and you’d like to set up a consultation at San Francisco Dental Wellness, contact us today at 415-781-1944 to make an appointment.