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TMJ 101 - Anatomy


Any medical/health information in this post is provided for general informational and educational purposes only and does not substitute for professional advice. Accordingly, before taking any actions based on such information, I encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance of any information contained in this course is solely at your own risk.

What makes up the jaw joint?

Your jaw joint is called the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ. You have two TMJs - one on each side. They work together to move your jaw thousands of times throughout the day as you talk, eat, brush your teeth, yawn, kiss, and even breathe.

The joint works like a hinge to open and close the jaw. It also works in other directions to move your jaw side to side and forward and backward. You can probably appreciate the different directions when you envision how your jaw has to move differently to do things like:

  • Chew gum

  • Take a bite out of a burger

  • Whistle

  • Belt out your favorite tune

  • Rub your tongue over your teeth

  • Speak your name versus a friend’s name

It’s a complex joint! But let’s simplify it. There are three important components:

  1. The bones

  2. The disc

  3. The muscles


There are two primary bones. The top portion is part of your skull. This piece is called the temporal bone. The bottom part is called the mandible; most people call it the jawbone (your bottom teeth are attached to this bone).

Smash the words together, and you get the temporal-mandibular joint, or temporomandibular joint.

(Artsy fartsy, right?)


There’s a disc in between these two bones. This disc helps the joint move smoothly. Think of it kind of like a cushion. Sometimes, this disc gets out of place and can result in clicking, popping, locking, or pain.


There are several muscles, but the most important to note are the masseter and the temporalis. These muscles close the jaw, such as when chewing or clenching. Any time you bring your teeth together, these muscles are working. These are the most common muscles involved in jaw pain and headaches that come from the jaw.

TMJ Problems = TMD

When someone has a problem with one or both of their TMJs, we call the problem a temporomandibular disorder, or TMD. There are many types of temporomandibular disorders. Some are problems with the muscles, some are problems with the disc, and some are problems with the bones.

Usually, to correctly identify the source of the problem, you need a full jaw and neck evaluation from someone who treats these problems regularly.

While we can't promise more artistic masterpieces, we can definitely help you understand what's going on with your jaw and how to get your focus back. Drop us a line in the "Contact" section!


Dr. Rebecca Salstrand, PT


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