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What is the difference between TMD and TMJ?

By Commonwealth DentistryNovember 21, 2021Dental Learning Center
tooth pain

In the world of dentistry, there are many acronyms. If you are confused by the difference between TMD and TMJ, you are not alone. While these acronyms are sometimes used interchangeably they are actually very different. It is likely that if you are learning about either you are suffering from some type of jaw pain and seeking some answers. By understanding the basics you may form a better understanding of the workings of the jaw and the source of your pain.

First things, first

TMJ and TMD are not the same things. Let’s start with definitions to gain a basic understanding of each.

TMDTMJ– TMJ refers to two very small joints located just next to your ears. They connect your lower jaw to your skull. While this joint may be very small, it is very useful. It connects your jaw to your skull and allows you to open your mouth, chew, and speak. However, this tiny joint is also delicate and can easily become inflamed, irritated, or even damaged. When this occurs it disrupts the smooth operation of opening and closing your jaw. Often pain and discomfort are associated.

Fun Fact: The TMJs are among the most complex joints in the body.

TMDTMD refers to the variety of disorders that can affect the TMJ, jaw muscles, and the nerves associated with chronic facial pain.  Any problem that prevents this complex system from working together harmoniously may be related to TMD.


Symptoms of TMD

  • Pain in the face and jaw
  • Locking, clicking, popping of the jaw when it moves
  • Muscle spasms
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Inability to open the mouth wide
  • Headaches
  • Pain spreading behind the eyes, face, shoulders, neck, and/or back TMJ
  • Earaches or ringing in the ears
  • Dizziness
  • Sensitivity of the teeth without the presence of an oral health disease
  • Numbness or tingling sensations in the fingers
  • A change in the way the uppers and lower teeth fit together

How do the TMJs become damaged?

  • Often the cause of the TMD is unclear
  • Overuse, such as excessive gum chewing or nightly grinding of teeth
  • Infection
  • Inflammation
  • Deterioration due to autoimmune diseases like arthritis or osteoarthritis

How is TMJ dysfunction diagnosed?

If you have any concerns, make an appointment today, to formulate a personalized plan to help manage and treat your TMD. Your favorite Commonwealth Dentist will:

  • Observe the range of motion when opening and closing your mouth.
  • Gently press on your face and jaw to determine areas of discomfort.
  • Access your jaw joints as you open and close your mouth.
  • X-rays will be taken to view the jaw joints and determine damage.
    • Panoramic X-rays: give a broad overview of your teeth, jawbone, and TMJs.

Treatments May Include:

If you are diagnosed with TMD conservative treatment options will be tried at first. Often combining a variety of techniques will provide TMD relief.

Heat and Cold Packs: Apply an ice pack to the inflamed area for about 10 minutes. Next, do a few simple stretching exercises (as instructed by your doctor).  After, apply a warm towel or washcloth. Repeat a few times a day.

Resting the TMJ: Resting the TMJ may help provide some much needed relief. To do so, consider eating soft foods that require less chewing. Avoid extra chewy foods such as gum, caramels, or taffy.

Medicine or Pain Relievers: Often taking over the counter pain medication can help a great deal with TMD. However, if you are experiencing intense pain a healthcare provider may prescribe something stronger.

Stress management: Often grinding of the teeth occurs subconsciously related to stress. Consider speaking to a mental health professional about ways to mitigate your stress.

Night Guard or Mouth Splint: Splints and mouth guards create a protective barrier between your upper and lower teeth. If worn correctly they also adjust your bit to a favorable position when closing. Splints are used all the time, mouth guards are worn at night.

Corrective Dental Treatment: Your mouth functions as a whole unit, which means missing just one tooth can throw off the balance. Corrective dental treatment can include replacing missing teeth with crowns or bridges. Braces can also help bring your bite to proper alignment.

Behavior Changes: These can include a variety of techniques to take pressure off your jaw. For example, keeping your teeth slightly apart as often as you can to relieve pressure on the jaw. Relaxation techniques and physical therapy may be useful as well.

If you are experiencing TMD, and you need help to treat your pain, jaw dysfunction, and restore your bite, Commonwealth Dentistry can help! Make an appointment today to discuss your TMJ discomfort. 

Commonwealth Dentistry

Author Commonwealth Dentistry

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