Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) are a group of conditions that cause dysfunction and pain in the joints and muscles of the jaw. It is rare for a person to develop ganglion cysts on the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).

Ganglion cysts are fluid-filled swellings that typically occur near joints, usually in the wrists. While it is possible for a ganglion cyst to develop on the TMJ, it is very rare.

This article discusses ganglion cysts, the risk factors of ganglion cysts of the TMJ, diagnosis, treatment, and outlook. It also provides an overview of TMD.

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Ganglion cysts contain thick fluid — synovial fluid — which lubricates tendons and joints to cushion them during movement. They look and feel like a smooth lump underneath the skin.

A person can develop a ganglion cyst alongside any joint in the body. They are most common in the hands, fingers, and wrists.

Ganglion cysts can be painful but are typically harmless. If they do not cause discomfort or pain, a person can leave them alone, and they may disappear on their own.


Ganglion cysts can be hard or soft. They typically move freely under the skin when pushed. They are characterized by:

  • Size: Ganglion cysts range from pea-sized — 1 centimeter — to golf ball-sized — 3 cm.
  • Pain: Ganglion cysts may cause pain, tenderness, or weakness if they press on a nerve.
  • Location: These cysts always occur alongside a joint, and 90% of cases occur in the wrist.

It is rare for a person to develop a ganglion cyst of the TMJ, which causes a bump in the jaw joint area.

Development on the TMJ

A ganglion cyst can develop on the TMJ when the collagen tissue of the TMJ capsule, which surrounds the jaw joint, degenerates.

As a result of the degeneration of the connective tissues around the joint, the cyst forms, which contains a gelatinous substance. It is lined with fibrous connective tissue.

Middle-aged women are at the highest risk of developing a ganglion cyst of the TMJ.

Females are three times more likely than men to develop a ganglion cyst. They are most likely to develop between the ages of 20 and 50.

To diagnose a ganglion cyst, a doctor will examine the lump. The doctor can shine a light through the cyst to check whether the substance inside is clear or opaque. The liquid inside a ganglion cyst is thick and clear.

A doctor may also use imaging scans to help with diagnosis, such as MRI, X-ray, or ultrasound.

It is possible for doctors to misdiagnose ganglion cysts for other conditions that present similarly. These include:

Synovial cysts

This type of cyst is similar to a ganglion cyst. However, while a ganglion cyst does not connect with a joint’s cavity and has a connective tissue lining, a synovial cyst may connect with a joint’s cavity and has a thin membrane lining called an endothelium that contains cells called synoviocytes.

The two types of cysts have different causes. Injury can sometimes cause synovial cysts. Evidence suggests that 23% of synovial cysts develop following trauma, while only 3% of ganglion cysts occur after trauma.

A doctor can differentiate between the two types of cysts by examining the tissue under a microscope.

Parotid gland tumor

The parotid glands are the largest salivary glands. Most salivary gland tumors begin in the parotid glands. The majority of salivary gland tumors are benign. However, most cancerous salivary gland tumors form in the parotid glands.

A doctor may order a biopsy to diagnose this type of tumor, such as a fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy. An FNA biopsy involves a small hollow needle that a doctor uses to take a small amount of fluid and cells from the lump or tumor for testing. A doctor can differentiate this tumor from a ganglion cyst upon examining the biopsy results.

Cystic lesions

There are four types of cystic lesions:

  • Inflammatory: Research has found that 48% of cystic lesions of the jaw are inflammatory in origin. They are also known as periapical cysts and occur due to trauma or infection.
  • Odontogenic: These cysts develop over a tooth that has not erupted yet, usually affecting the molars or canines. A tooth infection causes these cystic lesions.
  • Nonodontogenic: These cysts form from nonodontogenic tissue called the epithelium, which is non-tooth forming.
  • Developmental: These cystic lesions are benign and also made up of epithelium.

TMDs are a group of more than 30 conditions that cause dysfunction and pain in the jaw. People have two TMJs, which are on each side of the jaw.

There are three main groups of TMDs:

  • headaches associated with TMJ
  • disorders of the joints
  • disorders of the masticatory muscles, which people use for chewing

Symptoms include:

According to research, 85% of people with TMD also have other conditions such as:

A person may not require treatment for a ganglion cyst if it causes no pain or discomfort. A ganglion cyst may disappear without treatment, although this could take several years.

A doctor may recommend treatment if the cyst presses on nerves, causing pain or tenderness. Treatment may include:

  • Aspiration: A doctor may aspirate the cyst, which involves removing the fluid. The cyst may return after aspiration, and a person may need to undergo the procedure again.
  • Surgery: A doctor may remove the cyst by making a small incision and cutting out the cyst and its stalk.

Ganglion cysts are harmless, and the outlook is excellent for most people. Only people with symptoms should undergo treatment, but the cyst may recur if doctors do not remove it completely.

It is rare for a person to develop ganglion cysts on the TMJ, which are fluid-filled swellings that typically occur near joints.

Ganglion cysts are harmless and contain thick fluid called synovial fluid. Females are more likely than males to develop them. A person with a TMD may develop a ganglion cyst when the TMD causes connective tissues of the jaw to degenerate. The cyst forms near the joint of the jaw, where degeneration occurs.

If a person experiences pain or discomfort from the cyst, a doctor can remove it with surgery or drain the fluid from it by aspiration.