Confused about the difference between TMJ and TMD? There actually isn’t a difference. The temporomandibular joint is what connects your jaw to the temporal bones of the skull. It’s located approximately in front of your ears. When you have pain and other issues with your jaw, and the muscles surrounding it, that’s called a temporomandibular disorder (TMD). Sometimes it’s also called TMJ, specifically referring to the joint, but the preferred term is TMD.
TMD can cause anything from mild discomfort on up to severe pain. Sometimes it’s a temporary condition and will go away without treatment. Other times, it can go on forever if it’s not treated. It can affect one or both sides of the face. Usually, TMD occurs in people ages 20 to 40, but it can occur outside this age range. Women suffer from TMD more often than men.
What Causes TMJ / TMD?
There are a number of causes, including:
- Arthritis in the temporomandibular joint
- Injury to the neck muscles or the head, or to the temporomandibular joint
- Grinding or clenching the teeth
- Abnormal movement between the ball and socket of the joint
What are the Symptoms?
Symptoms of TMJ / TMD include:
- A “tired” feeling in the face
- Jaws locking in a closed or open position
- Difficulty with opening the mouth
- Grating, popping or clicking sounds in the jaw when opening and closing your mouth, or when chewing
- Frequent biting of own tongue or insides of the cheeks because of a bad fit between the upper and lower teeth
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Facial swellings.
The symptoms may not always be accompanied by pain. But, frequently, TMD sufferers experience toothaches, earaches, headaches, and pain in the neck and shoulders.
Assessing TMJ / TMD
TMD can be difficult to diagnose, because other problems can cause similar symptoms. When you come to see Dr. Katechis for a TMD assessment, he will check your joints for pain and tenderness, and also listen for any unusual sounds that could occur when you move your jaws. He’ll check for problems in the musculature of your face, and also identify any issues with your bite. Other measures may include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computer topography (CT) and full face X-rays to determine whether the TMJ disc is correctly positioned.
TMJ / TMD Treatment
TMD is treated in a number of ways, depending on the severity. As an example, if the problem is because you clench or grind your teeth while you sleep, a special mouth guard can be created to prevent your upper and lower teeth from touching. If you’re a daytime grinder, you can wear a splint that achieves the same result – the only difference is that you wear the splint all the time, not just at night.
If your TMD is due to an irregular bite, bridgework or crowns may serve to solve the problem.
If neither of these solutions help, other therapies are available including:
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): This is a procedure that delivers a mild electrical shock to relax the muscles in your face and joints.
- Low-Level Laser Therapy: This therapy uses a thin laser to reduce pain and improve neck movement.
- Ultrasound: With this treatment, heat is delivered to the joint to improve mobility and reduce pain.
- Radio Wave Therapy: Radio waves are used to stimulate the joint, improving the flow of blood to the joint and reducing pain.
- Surgery: If none of these other treatments alleviate the condition, surgery may be needed.