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If you frequently experience jaw pain, you may have heard your dentist discuss things such as TMD and TMJ. But what is the meaning of those terms, and what is the difference between the two?

Read on to learn more about TMJ and TMD, as well as TMD causes possible treatment options, and prevention.


Individuals who experience recurring or chronic pain in their jaw, especially when speaking, chewing, yawning, and swallowing, may have a temporomandibular disorder (TMD.) This type of disorder usually occurs when there is an issue with the temporomandibular joints within the jaw.

What is TMJ?

The temporomandibular joints (often referred to as TMJ) are a pair of joints that keep the lower jaw connected to the skull. These joints allow the jaw to rotate and slide left and right and are composed of the mandible (lower jaw) and temporomandibular (side and base of the skull) bones. These joints are among the most complex within the human body, as they allow the lower jaw bone to move side to side, up and down, as well as forward and backward.

When the temporomandibular joints are aligned properly, they function seamlessly together, and doing things such as eating, swallowing, chewing, yawning, and speaking is possible without pain or discomfort. If, however, these joints and/or other internal structures (muscles, ligaments, other bones, etc.) are not correctly aligned, problems can occur.

What is TMD?

TMD refers to temporomandibular disorders. These disorders can result in pain in the jaw and joint muscles that are responsible for the movement of the mouth and jaw bones. The causes of this type of disorder can vary and are often related to a combination of factors including trauma or injury to the area, genetics, and arthritis.

TMD can be grouped into three classifications and it is possible to have multiple TMDs simultaneously.

Myofascial Pain – This is the most common classification of TMD and causes pain or discomfort in the fascia (the connective tissue that covers the muscles) as well as the muscles that control movement in the jaw, neck, and shoulders.

Degenerative Joint Disease – This refers to pain and discomfort in the jaw and related areas due to rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Internal Derangement of the Joint – This occurs when a disk becomes displaced. The term ‘disk’ refers to the cartilage or cushion between the head of the jaw bone and the skull. This type of TMD can also be caused by a dislocated jaw or other injury to the rounded end of the jawbone.

Causes of TMD can vary and may not always be clear. Sometimes, grinding or clenching in the teeth (bruxism) can lead to strain on the jaw joints, or trauma to the head, neck or jaw can cause pain in these areas. Other instances of TMD may be due to stress.

What are the Symptoms of TMD?

The most common signs of TMD include:

● Discomfort or Pain in the Jaw

● Pain Behind the Eyes or in the Shoulder, Facial, Neck or Back Muscles

● Popping, Locking, or Clicking of the Jaw

● Frequent Earaches or Ringing in the Ears

● Decreased or Limited Motion in the Mouth

● Grinding or Clenching of the Teeth

● Frequent Dizziness

● Increased Sensitivity of the Teeth

● Changes in the Alignment of the Teeth and Jaw

● Numbness or Tingling in the Fingers

While the above-listed symptoms can point to TMD, they can also indicate the presence of other health issues, which is why seeing your dentist for a diagnosis and treatment plan is highly important.

How is TMJ Treated?

Your dentist can give you an official diagnosis of your temporomandibular disorder and can also offer treatment options that are appropriate for your age, general health, and medical history, as well as how long your condition is expected to persist, and how effective specific procedures, medicines or therapies may be.

Treatment options often include:

● Relaxation and Stress Management Techniques

● The Use of a TENS Machine (a device that promotes relaxation of the jaw and facial muscles)

● Over-the-counter or Prescription Pain Medications

● Exercises and Behaviour or Habit Changes (to reduce teeth grinding and clenching)

● Intentionally Resting the Temporomandibular Joint

● Physical Therapy

● The Use of a Mouthguard to Prevent Teeth Grinding

● Diet Adjustments (to allow the TMJ to rest and recover)

● Surgery

Depending on the severity of the condition, your dentist may recommend one or a combination of the treatment options listed above. They may also work to improve your bite by replacing or restoring damaged crowns and fillings, as well as replacing missing teeth.

If you are experiencing pain in your jaw, it is important to see your dentist right away. Contact our Guelph dentist’s office to schedule an appointment today!