Answers from our Columbia, SC TMJ Dentist

TMJ, short for temporomandibular joint disorder–also called TMJ disorder, or TMD—is caused by an imbalance in your jaw system. Muscles, bones, and teeth are working against each other, not with each other, which can result in a wide array of symptoms throughout your body, such as jaw pain, headaches, and back pain.

TMJ can be complicated to understand, and this page contains some technical information that may be easier to understand in person. Dr. Adam Hahn is an expert at explaining it in plain, straightforward language. To talk to them about TMJ, please call (803) 781-9090 or contact Smile Columbia Dentistry in Columbia, SC today for an appointment.

Understanding the TMJ Imbalance

Detailed view of a jaw & skull of a human maleTMJ is a disorder of the temporomandibular joints. These joints connect your jaw to your skull, and are located on either side of your head, just below your ears. We describe it as an imbalance because the complicated temporomandibular joints depend on a number of systems to work together harmoniously: groups of muscles work to move your jaw up and down, side to side, backwards and forwards, and more. Ideally, these muscles should all be at rest when your jaw is in a relaxed natural position with your teeth almost or lightly touching all around. When these muscles work together, your jaw should move comfortably and smoothly on the TMJ joint, where a cushion of cartilage keeps your bones from grinding.

When a person has TMJ, though, it’s impossible for all the muscles to be at rest together. Instead, your muscles are always in tension, and may pull your teeth together in a grinding fashion, leading to worn teeth, chipped teeth, or broken teeth. You may experience jaw pain either in the joints or in the bone due to excessive pressure. Displacement of the cushioning disc, which may result from or cause muscle tension, may result in jaw popping or clicking.

TMJ treatment works by relaxing your muscles and moving your jaw into a position of maximum rest.


TMJ can result from many causes. In many cases, it results from trauma to the jaw, such as a sports injury. Car accidents are another common cause of it. Although your seatbelt secures your body, the pressure of the rapid acceleration of the accident puts excessive force on your head, neck, and jaw, which can displace the cushioning disc in your jaw or even the jaw itself.

Other times, it is related to problems in the way your teeth fit together, called malocclusion. Malocclusion can be developmental, or it can be due to damage, decay, or tooth injury. Sometimes, poor dental work can cause malocclusion.

Older woman shows off her smile in her kitchen

How TMJ Affects Your Entire Body

The symptoms of TMJ begin in your mouth, but they can quickly spread throughout the body. Our bodies are made up of numerous complex systems that have to work together, and your jaw is at a point where many of them intersect. For example, the muscles in your jaw work with muscles in your head and neck. When your jaw is out of balance, it transmits muscle tension into your head, resulting in tension headaches and triggering migraines. And this tension shows up elsewhere as face, neck, shoulder, and back pain.

Tense muscles can also put pressure on nearby nerves, which can also serve to trigger migraines and can cause ear pain, tinnitus, or feelings of stuffiness in the ears. Because your inner ear is also your center of balance this can result in dizziness or vertigo. Tension in your neck can cause your spine to get out of alignment, resulting in pinched nerves that cause tingling in the fingers.

All of these symptoms are cascading effects of your TMJ.

Dr. Adam Hahn in Columbia, SC has experience helping people with all stages and types of TMJ. They can help you, too. Please call (803) 781-9090 or contact Smile Columbia Dentistry today to schedule an appointment.