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What is TMJ & TMD? Basic Signs, Symptoms & Treatment

If you have jaw pain, you may hear your dentist discuss TMJ and TMD. But what exactly do these terms mean, and what is the difference between TMJ and TMD? Our Edmonton dentists list signs of temporomandibular disorders and potential treatment options. 


If you've been feeling pain in your jaw for a while now and have started to find chewing, speaking, swallowing and even yawning becoming more difficult, you may have a temporomandibular disorder (TMD). This condition can occur if there's an issue with the temporomandibular joints in our jaw. Many people who have been experiencing this pain or discomfort ask, "What is the difference between TMJ and TMD?"

In this post, we'll discuss TMJ and TMD, common symptoms of the disorder, and treatment options your dentist can offer. 

What is TMJ?

Our temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are two joints that connect the lower jaw to the skull. These joints rotate and slide in front of each ear, and are made of the mandible (lower jaw) and the temporomandibular bone (the base and side of the skull). They are among the body's most complex joints and allow the mandible to move up and down, forward and backward, and side to side. 

When the joints and mandible are correctly aligned, they function smoothly together and you'll be able to speak, eat, swallow, talk and chew without pain. However, if these structures (disk, jaw bone, temporal bone, ligaments and muscles) are out of alignment, several problems including pain and various diseases can occur. 

What is TMD?

Temporomandibular disorders can cause pain in the jaw joint and muscles that control the movement in your jaw. Causes of an individual's TMJ disorder may vary and be influenced by a combination of factors, such as jaw injury, arthritis or genetics. 

They have three different classifications. You can have more one of these conditions simultaneously:

Myofascial pain - The most common form of DMD leads to pain or discomfort in the fascia (connective tissue covering the muscles) and the muscles that control function in the jaw, neck and shoulders.

Degenerative joint disease - This covers both rheumatoid arthritis in the jaw joint and osteoarthritis. 

Internal derangement of the joint - This can occur with a displaced disk (the cushion or cartilage between the skull and head of the jaw bone), a dislocated jaw or injury to the condyle (rounded end of the jaw bone that articulates with the skull's temporal bone).

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.

Other painful medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or fibromyalgia can also overlap with or worsen the pain and discomfort of TMD. Psychological, sensory, clinical, nervous system and other genetic factors may also leave a person at higher risk of developing chronic TMD.

Symptoms of TMD can also vary. We'll discuss these below.

TMJ Symptoms & TMJ Pain

If you're feeling pain in your jaw and experiencing TMJ pain and symptoms, you might be suffering from a temporomandibular disorder. Common signs of the condition include:

    • Pain or discomfort in the jaw (often most apparent in the morning or late afternoon)
    • Pain in your facial, shoulder, back or neck muscles, or behind the eyes
    • Jaw locking, popping or clicking
    • Ringing in the ears or earaches 
  • Limited motion in the mouth
  • Teeth grinding or clenching
  • Dizziness
  • Tooth sensitivity (without presence of oral health disease)
  • Change in the way upper and lower teeth fit together
  • Tingling or numbness in the fingers

While these symptoms can point to TMD, they can also point to other health issues, which is why we recommend seeing your dentist for a diagnosis and treatment plan.

TMD Treatment Options

Your dentist can officially diagnose your temporomandibular disorder and offer treatment options based on your age, overall health and medical history, how long your condition is expected to last, and how well you'll handle specific procedures, medicines or therapies. 

Treatment options can include:

  • Stress management and relaxation techniques 
  • Using TENS machine (device that encourages relaxation in facial and jaw muscles)
  • Pain relievers or prescription medication
  • Exercises or behaviour/habit changes (to stop or reduce teeth clenching)
  • Resting the temporomandibular joint (TMJ)
  • Physical therapy
  • Mouthguard to reduce teeth grinding
  • Diet changes (to rest jaw muscles)
  • Surgery 

Depending on your circumstances, your dentist may recommend one or a combination of these treatment options. We may also be able to improve your bite by replacing damaged dental restorations such as crowns or fillings, or replacing missing teeth.

Are you experiencing pain in your jaw? Contact our Edmonton dentists to schedule an appointment. We can explore causes, and symptoms, and determine the right treatment for you.

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