Difference Between TMJ & TMD
Posted on 08/02/2016

Difference Between TMJ & TMD

Learning The Difference Between TMJ & TMD

In the world of dentistry, there are so many acronyms thrown around it is often difficult to keep track of what they all mean. If you’ve been confused by the terms TMD and TMJ, you’re not alone. These two acronyms are commonly used to mean the same thing - a disorder of the jaw. But, in reality, they are related, but two different things. They involve your jaw, and a chronic pain in areas of your head that can become crippling.   

What is TMJ? 

The letters TMJ stand for temporomandibular joint (no wonder the acronym, right?). This ball-and-socket joint connects your lower jaw to the temporal bone of the skull, which supports the part of the face known as the temple and protects your ear. The TMJ is located on each side of your face and is a very important structure. It is the hinge that opens and closes your mouth and allows you to eat, drink, talk, and yawn. If this joint is damaged or becomes misaligned, it can cause a host of disorders, called TMDs.

What is TMD?

TMD stands for temporomandibular joint disorder and refers to a variety of conditions that affect TM joints, jaw muscles and facial nerves that control jaw movement. TMD is the result of an injured or misaligned TMJ. When your jaw becomes misaligned from trauma or crooked teeth, the everyday tasks performed by your TMJ can become painful, causing a wide range of symptoms that can affect your entire body. TMD affects as many as 15% of all Americans resulting in chronic facial pain, such as jaw pain, headaches or earaches and is the most common non-dental related chronic facial pain.

What Causes TMD? 

The causes of TMD are not always clear, but Henrico dentists believe that symptoms arise from injury to your jaw, muscles of the head and neck or of the TMJ itself. Other causes of TMD might be:  

  • Improper bite (how teeth fit together)

  • Heavy trauma to your jaw from an accident

  • Pressure on the TMJ from clenching or grinding your teeth

  • Displacement of the disc between the ball and socket

  • Arthritis or osteoarthritis of the TMJ

  • Tightening your facial and jaw muscles or clenching your teeth due to stress

  • Sinus problems, tooth decay, gum disease

How Do I Know If I Have TMD?​​

Symptoms are often quite painful for Henrico area residents who suffer from TMD. You might experience severe pain and discomfort in the face and head that is either temporary or lasts for many years. Some common symptoms of TMD include:

  • Facial pain or a tired feeling in your face

  • Limited ability to open mouth

  • Locked jaws (open or closed)

  • Difficulty or pain when chewing, biting or yawning

  • Swelling on the side of the face

  • Toothaches

  • Earaches, hearing issues, tinnitus

  • Pain in or around the ear

  • Headaches and neck aches

  • Jaw pain or soreness that is more common in the morning or late afternoon

  • Clicking or popping noises when opening the mouth

  • Sensitive teeth when no other dental problems can be found

  • Dizziness

How Is TMD Diagnosed?


Unfortunately, many other conditions cause symptoms that are similar to the symptoms of TMD. To figure out what’s the cause of any ill effects you’re feeling, your Henrico dentist will ask you about your health history and then perform a physical exam.pasted image 0 (2)

First, you’ll have your jaw joints checked for any jaw pain or tenderness. Your dentist will make sure that your jaw is working normally and that it doesn’t lock or make clicking noises. During the final part of this exam, your dentist will check for problems with your facial muscles and test your bite.


Your dentist may also take full facial x-rays in order to view your temporomandibular joints. If necessary, you may also need to undergo an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or a CT (computer tomography) scan. An MRI will show if the TMJ disc is in the proper place while your jaw moves. A CT scan will show the bony detail of the joint.

Lifestyle Changes 

If you want to relieve some of your symptoms of TMD, such as jaw pain, here are several lifestyle changes we suggest making:

  • Eat softer foods.

  • Avoid strenuous jaw movements (such as yelling).

  • Keep your teeth slightly apart.

  • Practice good posture.

  • Consider physical therapy and relaxation techniques.

  • Take anti-inflammatory drugs, if needed.

Ways to Treat TMD 

If you have TMD, your Henrico dentist will first recommend these treatments:

A Night Guard

A night guard is a plastic mouthpiece that will fit over your teeth so that your upper and lower teeth don’t touch. This will keep you from grinding or clenching your teeth as you sleep and keep your teeth in their proper positions. If you suffer from grinding throughout the day, we may recommend a splint.

Dental Work

If your biting surfaces are unbalanced or you if have a bite problem that may be the cause of TMD, we can perform dental work to correct your bite.


We can also prescribe higher doses of medication if you’re in need of them for pain and swelling.

Advanced Treatment Options


If none of the preceding treatments are working, you may want to look into some more advanced treatment options, which include:

  • Ultrasound – This will apply deep heat to the TMJ to relieve soreness.

  • A TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) Unit – This uses low-level electrical currents to relax your joints and provide pain relief.

  • Trigger-point injections – Anesthesia or pain medication is injected into the facial muscles to provide relief.

  • Arthroscopy – This is an oral surgery that’s typically performed when all other treatments aren’t helping. Your doctor will make a small cut in front of your ear and insert a tool called an arthroscope. With the help of the arthroscope, your doctor will examine the area and then may also remove inflamed tissue or realign the joint.


If you are experiencing a popping or clicking in your jaw, migraines, or pain in your neck, contact your Henrico dentistry today for a diagnosis. Because the symptoms of TMD are so varied and can be symptoms of many other things, diagnosing can be difficult. The experts at Short Pump Dental can examine and diagnose your issues and get you started on a treatment plan to bring you relief. There is no standard one test to diagnose TMD, but our dentists will note your description of symptoms, and give you a physical exam of your face and jaw. We may also take X-rays to check your bite and jaw alignment. Let us help you find a solution. Contact us by calling (804) 747-0116 and make an appointment at our conveniently located Henrico office. Your first consultation is always free. We look forward to serving you for all of your family dentistry needs including pediatric, cosmetic, and dental implant services.