TMJ Treatment

TMJ vs TMD: How To Tell Them Apart

August 11, 2022
A woman holding her cheek suffering from TMJ or TMD pain.

ain in the sides of your face? Popping jaw? Do your teeth clench or grind? The problem may be TMJ or TMD. But what are they and what’s the difference between them?

TMJ and TMD Differences

TMJ and TMD are not the same thing. TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint, which is the joint that connects your jaw to your skull, just below and in front of your ear. On the other hand, TMD stands for temporomandibular joint disorder.

TMD refers to a collection of problems that are all related to the TMJ. So basically, TMJ is the anatomical name of the joint, whereas TMD is the group of conditions that can affect the joint.

The reason for this misunderstanding is just basic parlance. People with TMD will often say they have “TMJ pain” or “TMJ problems”. So this is really all a matter of the words that people are familiar with. Still, if you’re suffering from TMD. it’s important to understand exactly what that means and what can be done about it.

What is the TMJ?

The temporomandibular joint is a very small and delicate part of the jaw. It may be surprising to learn how delicate it really is, because it does so many powerful and important things. The TMJ is active when you talk, when you chew, and any time you open your mouth. This almost-constant use of the TMJ is the reason why TMJ disorders (also known as TMD) can be so detrimental to your overall dental and physical health.

So now that we know what the TMJ is, let’s look at the problems when it goes wrong.

What is TMD?

As mentioned, TMD is not just one disorder, but a collection of TMJ disorders. It can manifest as jaw pain, chronic facial pain, teeth grinding, and as a jaw clenching disorder. There can be many symptoms of TMD, and not every case of TMD manifests the same way.

What causes TMD? Any number of things can cause the TMJ to become problematic. The TMJ can be damaged from injury, such as a blow to the face (think: sports players, or children wrestling).

It can be caused by an infection that makes the area around the TMJ become swollen and painful. It can even be caused by bone deterioration disorders, or autoimmune disorders like arthritis.

What Can Be Done About TMD?

Treatment for TMD can be a number of things, because, as mentioned before, TMD can be caused by a number of things. However, there are some treatments that are universal.

First, it is recommended that you rest the TMJ as much as you can during this painful medical experience. This is obviously going to be hard because you can’t simply stop eating or talking.

You need to open your mouth. But you can give your TMJ some rest by eating soft foods, so your TMJ doesn’t have to work as hard, and talking softer and less often. Also, practice not opening your mouth as widely as you usually do.

Pain medication will be recommended, but in almost every case the pain medication will be an over-the-counter drug, generally ibuprofen. This is an anti-inflammatory, which will both help with the pain and decrease the swelling around the TMJ, making it less irritated. Tylenol may also be recommended for pain.

In some cases, physical therapy will be called for. This physical therapy will be a hands-on massage, moving the jaw open and closed in a protected way to improve jaw joint motion, reduce stiffness, and alleviate stress.

If you are having jaw clenching and teeth grinding as part of your TMD, then the dentist will likely recommend a night guard for you. This custom-fitted mouthguard will make sure that when you clench at night your teeth are not grinding against each other.

Need help with your jaw clenching? Learn more about our TMJ services here.

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