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Pain. All of us try to avoid it. Sometimes, unfortunately, it simply can’t be helped. But the pain in some areas — like our mouth, teeth, or jaw — can be particularly bothersome. It’s not as if any of us can simply stop using our mouths, and if you’ve had the misfortune of having a toothache or problem with your face, you know just how painful they can be.

The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are the two joints that connect your jaw to the rest of your face. Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) are disorders related to the jaw which if left untreated, can cause major pain and dysfunction, potentially even limiting the mobility of your jaw. Fortunately, dentists have developed a variety of strategies to treat these issues. However, TMJ and TMD are not interchangeable terms. TMJ actually refers to the joints, while TMD refers to the disorders related to the joints. 

What Is TMJ? 

TMJ is short for Temporomandibular Joint. Everyone has two temporomandibular joints, located on either side of your face. These jaws connect your jaw to your face. These joints are used thousands of times a day, during common activities like speaking and chewing.

What Is TMD?

TMD stands for Temporomandibular Disorders. In short, TMD affects your jaw, and specifically your temporomandibular joints. TMD occurs when the muscles or ligaments around your temporomandibular joints become inflamed or irritated. This can cause pain and discomfort. Additionally, the issue can involve one or both joints.

When it comes to TMJ vs TMD, many people often use the terms interchangeably. However, this is a mistake: TMJ refers to the joints, and TMD refers to the disorders that occur in these joints. 

What Are the Causes of TMD?

Sometimes, the causes of TMD are related to genetics. Other times, they are caused by a situational event. TMD can both be caused by an accident or some sort of trauma, grinding one’s teeth at night, or other illnesses like arthritis. Bruxism — or grinding one’s teeth — is also a relatively common cause of TMD, and this explains why some people will have an abrupt onset of TMD, like when they are going through a particularly stressful event. 

How Do I Know If I Have TMJ or TMD?

Everyone has two temporomandibular joints — one on each side of the face. If you don’t experience any pain in your jaw when moving, talking, or chewing, then you’re in luck, and you have nothing to worry about.

However, if you do experience pain, stiffness, discomfort, or a locking sensation when moving your jaw, you may want to get it checked out by a dentist. Specific items to get checked out include:

  • Aching or throbbing pain in the jaw
  • Pain that radiates into your teeth, skull, or mouth
  • Stiffness in your jaw
  • Locking in your jaw — as in it gets stuck in one position
  • Difficulty in chewing or moving your jaw

How Is TMD Diagnosed?

Like any other medical or dental problem, your dentist will utilize a variety of tools in order to confirm a TMD diagnosis. This will likely involve one of the following:

  • A physical examination, during which your dentist will touch or palpate your jaw and observe how it looks when it is opened and closed. Your dentist may also listen to your jaw to hear if it makes clicking sounds when it opens or closes. 
  • Ask about specifics of the pain, including when it occurs, what it feels like, and if there are any things that make the pain better or worse.
  • Use of diagnostic tools, including an X-Ray, MRI, or CT scan. This may be done not only to confirm the presence of TMD but to rule out anything else more severe.

There are many ways to treat TMD. Less severe treatments include:

  • Use of over-the-counter painkillers.
  • Use of a customized mouth guard to reduce the damage caused by bruxism at night.
  • Physical therapy, including stretching and movement of the jaw.

In more severe cases, a dentist may need to use more invasive procedures, including:

  • Steroid injections to reduce pain and swelling.
  • A procedure called Arthrocentesis, during which small needles are inserted into the TMJ.
  • A variety of other potential surgeries, including full open-joint surgery. 

As a general rule, your dentist will almost certainly try less invasive treatments first. If these treatments fail to resolve the issue, they may escalate the severity of the treatment. 

As you can see, there are a variety of differences when it comes to TMJ and. TMD. Fortunately, with appropriate care, both can be treated, and you should be able to make a full recovery. If you need help treating TMJ, TMD, or any other dental problems, contact Dana Street Dental today in order to learn more or book an appointment.

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