Lock-jaw. The name itself sounds foreboding. The very idea of a locked jaw conjures uncomfortable scenes in the imagination, but it’s a daily reality for too many people who suffer from undiagnosed and untreated disorders in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), the joint that connects the jawbone to the skull. While lock-jaw is a term that’s well known and feared, most people don’t know that it’s a clear warning sign of a much larger problem, a misunderstood disorder that affects the temporomandibular joint.

There’s a lot of confusion when it comes to this complex joint disorder, and for that reason, it’s frequently misdiagnosed. Many people mistake jaw pain for TMJ. In reality, everyone has TMJ. That is, everyone has a  temporomandibular joint. The pain is caused by the disorder, TMD—and it’s on the rise. In fact, Millennials are seeking therapy for TMD more than any other condition.

So how do you know if you have temporomandibular joint disorder? While TMD should be diagnosed by a specialist, these five tell-tale warning signs will help you identify whether a headache is a one-off occurrence or a result of a chronic condition.

Don't Ignore TMD Warning Signs | Dentist Burke VA


While most headaches can be cured with a healthy dose of ibuprofen, drinking more water, or a quick nap, a headache caused by TMD is recurring. If you’re waking up most mornings with a headache that seems to radiate from your jaw, near your ears, or above your eyes, it could be caused by TMD.

Popping or Clicking

Popping or cracking your knuckles is entirely different from popping in the jaw joint. Clicking and popping in the jaw is an important warning sign of TMD, and an early one, often occurring months or years before other symptoms. Joints in the body are meant to operate smoothly so a clicking or popping sensation could be the sign of misaligned bite or joint dysfunction.

Soreness after Eating, Talking, or Smiling

Eating, talking, and smiling shouldn’t be difficult or uncomfortable. No one wants to experience pain after eating a delicious meal with family or catching up with a friend on the telephone. TMD makes these everyday pleasures not only inconvenient but painful. A large sandwich, a long discussion, and even prolonged laughing and smiling, can create painful soreness in the jaw and cheek muscles for people with TMD.

Teeth Grinding or Bruxism

One of the most common causes of TMD is bruxism or teeth grinding. Stress and anxiety can cause a person to grind their teeth. It can happen while you’re sleeping or while awake and is often times an unconscious habit. Many people grind and clench their teeth during periods of concentration like on daily commutes or working in front of a computer. Not only can bruxism cause dental problems such as chipped or cracked teeth that could require implants, crowns, bridges, and other repairs, but also debilitating jaw pain. Bruxism can lead to temporary lock jaw and limit your mouth’s range of motion, making it difficult to open and close.  

Ear Pressure and Ringing

Many people with TMD experience a ringing in their ears. In fact, a study recently suggests that as many as  94% of tinnitus cases are related to TMD. Other ear symptoms such as ear fullness, vertigo, and ear pain often mistakenly lead patients with TMD to an ear, nose and throat specialist when they may need to see neuromuscular dentist instead for treatment.

Treating TMD

The most effective way to treat TMD goes beyond pain mitigation. In addition to relieving pain, a neuromuscular dentist like Dr. Marzban will identify the root of the disorder to provide long-lasting relief. Dr. Marzban examines the temporomandibular joint for pain or tenderness; listens for any popping or clicking during jaw movement; and examines your bite and facial muscle functionality to determine the best course of treatment.

Dr. Marzban received her training from the world renowned Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies, she has the experience necessary to identify even these more subtle and complex symptoms of TMJ.

If you are experiencing any discomfort in the jaw, please contact Pamela Marzban, DDS by calling our Burke, Virginia office at 703-323-8200 to schedule a diagnostic evaluation today.