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What Can Cause TMJ Disorders to Flare Up?

The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ for short, is located in front of the ears and allows the jaw to open and close similar to that of a sliding hinge. But when the movement of the jaw joint and surrounding muscles is compromised and accompanied by persistent pain, a diagnosis of temporomandibular joint dysfunction and/or disorder (TMD) occurs.

When issues such as pain, swelling, stiffness, or popping gradually comes and goes, this usually presents itself as a flare-up. An evaluation by a TMJ dentist is required for an accurate diagnosis.

What Can Cause TMJ Disorders to Flare-up?


This is the most common cause of a TMJ flare-up. People with high levels of stress have increased muscle tension, especially in the neck, shoulder, and head which may cause painful swelling of the TMJ. This in turn can lead to clenching or grinding of the teeth making matters worse and exacerbating a TMJ flare-up.


If a person does not drink enough water, pain, and inflammation of the TMJ and muscles can occur leading to a flare-up.

Neck muscles

The bones in your neck work closely with the muscles that control your speaking, biting, chewing, and head posture. When they become strained, they rely on other surrounding muscles which can trigger TMD pain.

Eating habits

The pressure and muscle fatigue caused by excessive TMJ movements of too many tough, hard, or chewy foods can lead to painful flare-ups.


This is especially true for women who experience hormone fluctuations throughout adulthood. A sudden increase or decrease in hormones can cause painful TMJ inflammation.


Poor posture can cause the misalignment of the spine and a protruding jaw leading to headaches, backaches, and sometimes TMJ pain. This is especially true for people who spend most of their day sitting.

Vitamin deficiencies

A deficiency of vitamin D can contribute to muscle pain.

TMJ is the joint itself and TMD refers to the dysfunction/disorder of the joint and surrounding muscles. TMD is a group of more than 30 conditions that cause pain and dysfunction in the jaw joint and muscles and affects more than 3 million people per year.

TMD is usually caused by bruxism (grinding and clenching of the teeth), arthritis in the TMJ, stress, acute trauma, and an improper bite. Depending on the severity of each, can lead to a TMD flare-up.

Inflammation and overworked muscles tend to be the most common cause of TMJ flare-ups, although there are several other reasons someone can experience jaw pain.

People with mild TMJ pain can use home treatment and remedies. But for more severe cases, an appointment with a TMJ dentist should be scheduled for professional treatment.

TMJ Dysfunction/Disorder Symptoms

  • Jaw pain and discomfort
  • Ear, neck, or head pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Toothaches
  • Warmth and swelling of the face
  • Decreased jaw mobility
  • Clicking and locking of the jaw
  • Difficulty opening mouth or chewing

While a TMJ disorder can develop for any number of reasons, many everyday occurrences can also lead to a sudden flare-up. It can affect daily activities such as speaking, sleeping, eating, and yawning.

Understanding the causes and symptoms can help patients take more preventative measures to keep the pain and inflammation at bay. It can also help people to recognize the condition early on ensuring that they seek the best treatment plan possible.

How Long Does a TMJ Disorder Flare-up Last?

TMJ flare-ups typically last anywhere from a couple of hours to several days which is determined by the underlying cause and if treatment is being utilized. It also depends on the person since every case is different.

With the proper diagnosis and treatment, a person can minimize the duration and intensity of their TMD flare-ups. Untreated cases can become chronic and debilitating.

Preventing TMJ Disorder Flare-ups

Softer foods

Eliminate hard, chewy foods and stick to a diet of softer foods, and take smaller bites to prevent TMD from getting worse.

Sleep on your back

This helps to avoid putting pressure on your jaw. Also, use a pillow that supports your head and neck properly.

Physical therapy

A therapist can manipulate the jaw and surrounding TMJ muscles to relieve tension and pain.


It is important to practice relaxation techniques regularly such as deep breathing and meditation to relieve stress since it is the most common cause of TMD.

Jaw exercises

Performing simple exercises that stretch and relax your jaw can also release stress and/or improve your posture.

Stay hydrated

Avoid caffeine and drink and/or eat foods high in water such as tomatoes, cantaloupe, and cucumber.

If you or someone you love has been experiencing TMJ flare-ups and are looking for relief from the discomfort of it, schedule an appointment with Dr. Gina Liggio Maestri DDS. She is the TMJ dentist in Lafayette, LA, who is well-known for treating TMD.

Read also: How Can Botox Help with TMJ?

Dr. Maestri and the staff are also highly qualified for treating patients with preventative, restorative, and sedation dentistry. We can provide oral care for the whole family’s dental needs. Maestri Dental is not just any general dentist, we are your personal dentist because there is no substitute for professional dental care.




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