Temporomandibular Joint Basics

The temporomandibular joint is the joint of the jaw and is frequently referred to as TMJ. The TMJ is a bilateral synovial articulation between the mandible and temporal bone. The name of the joint is derived from the two bones which form the joint: the upper temporal bone which is part of the cranium (skull), and the lower jawbone or mandible.


There are six main components of the TMJ.

Mandibular condyles
Articular surface of the temporal bone
Articular disc
Lateral pterygoid

Capsule and articular disc

The capsule is a dense fibrous membrane that surrounds the joint and incorporates the articular eminence. It attaches to the articular eminence, the articular disc and the neck of the mandibular condyle.

The unique feature of the TMJs is the articular disc. The disc is composed of fibrocartilagenous tissue that is positioned between the two bones that form the joint. The TMJs are one of the few synovial joints in the human body with an articular disc, another being the sternoclavicular joint. The disc divides each joint into two.These two compartments are synovial cavities, which consists of an upper and a lower synovial cavity. The synovial membrane lining the joint capsule produces the synovial fluid that fills these cavities.[1]

The central area of the disc is avascular and lacks innervation, and, in contrast, the peripheral region has both blood vessels and nerves. Few cells are present, but fibroblasts and white blood cells are among these. The central area is also thinner but of denser consistency than the peripheral region, which is thicker but has a more cushioned consistency. The synovial fluid in the synovial cavities provides the nutrition for the avascular central area of the disc. With age, the entire disc thins and may undergo addition of cartilage in the central part, changes that may lead to impaired movement of the joint.[1]

The lower joint compartment formed by the mandible and the articular disc is involved in rotational movement—this is the initial movement of the jaw when the mouth opens. The upper joint compartment formed by the articular disc and the temporal bone is involved in translational movement—this is the secondary gliding motion of the jaw as it is opened widely. The part of the mandible which mates to the under-surface of the disc is the condyle and the part of the temporal bone which mates to the upper surface of the disk is the articular fossa or glenoid fossa or mandibular fossa.

The articular disc is a fibrous extension of the capsule in between the two bones of the joint. The disc functions as articular surfaces against both the temporal bone and the condyles and divides the joint into two sections, as already described. It is biconcave in structure and attaches to the condyle medially and laterally. The anterior portion of the disc splits in the vertical dimension, coincident with the insertion of the superior head of the lateral pterygoid. The posterior portion also splits in the vertical dimension, and the area between the split continues posteriorly and is referred to as the retrodiscal tissue. Unlike the disc itself, this piece of connective tissue is vascular and innervated, and in some cases of anterior disc displacement, the pain felt during movement of the mandible is due to the condyle compressing this area against the articular surface of the temporal bone.