What Are TMD and TMJ?

What Are TMD and TMJ?
Posted on 08/21/2018
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Temporomandibular joint disorder, also called TMJ disorder or TMD, is an umbrella term for a group of medical conditions causing pain or compromised movement in one or both TMJs. Because it is a broad classification, it is difficult to pinpoint how many people have the condition – though it is estimated more than 10 million Americans experience symptoms.

The TMJ on both sides of your head near the ear connects the mandible, or jawbone, to the temporal bones of the skull. One of the most used joints in the body, it acts as a sliding hinge – allowing you to speak, chew, drink, yawn and swallow.

The most common TMD problems occur when the articular disc within the joint becomes displaced. This causes simple movements to become painful and can even cause the joints to lock, making it difficult to fully open or close your mouth.BallasDental_tooth-jaw-pain

TMD Symptoms

TMD symptoms are often temporary, though they usually reoccur in cycles. In many instances, they will go away on their own in a matter of weeks, but can last years. Common symptoms include:

  • Tenderness in the face, jaw, neck and shoulders
  • Severe pain or discomfort while chewing or yawning
  • Difficulty opening or closing your mouth
  • Jaw locking in place when opening your mouth wide
  • Clicking or popping noises when opening your mouth
  • Sudden crossed or misaligned bite

In rarer cases, tinnitus, tooth sensitivity, headaches or even hearing loss can occur.

What Causes TMD?

TMD causes are not always clear. Generally, pressure causes the disc to either become damaged or displaced. These are some of the common reasons this occurs:

  • Teeth grinding
  • Arthritis in the joint
  • Frequent jaw clenching
  • Chewing on hard objects
  • Thumb sucking
  • Disc erosion
  • Jaw or bite abnormalities
  • Trauma to the joint

TMD Home Treatments

People who develop TMD often wonder what their treatment options are. The good news is, most cases can be treated using home remedies, including:

  • Medication – Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can reduce jaw, neck and facial discomfort.
  • Good posture – Sit up straight, especially if you work at a desk and avoid resting your jaw in your hand.
  • Joint massages – Use your pointer and middle fingers to gently massage the TMJ, found in front of the earlobe.
  • Hot and cold packs – Apply either to the joint for about 10 to 15 minutes to reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Diet and behavior changes – Avoid chewy and crunchy foods, singing, yawning or any other activity that requires intensive jaw movements.
  • Stress relief – Meditation, light exercise and deep breathing can help you de-stress and minimize jaw clenching during the day.

Other Treatment Options

Other treatments can be used when home remedies are not effective. These options are typically reserved for more severe cases and should only be considered if recommended by a dental professional.

Bite Guards and Splints

Patients who tend to clench or grind their teeth while sleeping may require a bite guard or oral splint. These devices are usually made of acrylic resin and are worn over the top or bottom teeth to prevent them from touching. They do not permanently alter your bite and are often worn for a short period of time.

Dental and Orthodontic Procedures

In rarer cases, like when an irregular bite is causing symptoms, a dentist may recommend an irreversible procedure to alleviate discomfort. These treatments include:

  • Orthodontic appliances
  • Grinding teeth to change the bite
  • Crown and bridge work

Surgical and Medical Procedures

Arthrocentesis, TMJ arthroscopy and open-joint surgery are some of the reconstruction alternatives which can improve the joint functionality and relieve pain. However, these options are only effective for specific types of TMD and are not completely guaranteed to provide relief, so they are considered a last resort in many cases.

Some other medical alternatives include:

  • Steroid or Botox injections
  • Prescription pain medication
  • Radio wave therapy
  • Laser therapy

When to See a Dental Professional

When the discomfort is severe or movement is so compromised that you cannot completely open your mouth or swallow, you should schedule an appointment with a dental professional. Your dentist will be able to identify what is causing your symptoms and develop a treatment plan.

Schedule an Appointment at Ballas Dental Care

Not all dentists provide TMD services. At Ballas Dental Care, we offer state-of-the-art treatments for TMD/TMJ disorder so our patients can quickly return to a pain-free lifestyle. For more information, call 314-432-5544 today or contact us online to schedule your appointment.


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What is TMD/TMJ?

Though TMD and TMJ are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects your lower mandible to the temporal bones on the sides of your skull. Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a general term describing a set of conditions that cause tenderness or limited movement in the jaw joint due to a variety of causes.

It is estimated anywhere from 10 to 35 million people experience TMD.1,2

How the TMJ Works

The TMJ is essentially a sliding hinge on each side of the skull that allows you to eat, speak and perform other jaw movements. Inside each joint is a soft tissue disc that sits between the jaw and skull bones to absorb shock. This allows you to use your jaw without causing pain or damaging the joint. When the disc becomes inflamed or dislodged, TMD symptoms can arise.

TMD Symptoms

Symptoms vary depending on the type of TMD. Some may only last several weeks, while others may last months or even a year or more.3 Common symptoms include:

  • Pain in the neck, face and shoulders
  • Tender or swollen jaw joints
  • Clicking or popping sounds
  • Jaw locking in an open or closed position
  • Misaligned bite
  • Hearing problems
  • Headaches

TMD Causes and Risk Factors

Because TMD is not a specific condition, causes vary and can be difficult to pinpoint. Arthritis, teeth grinding, jaw clenching, trauma and autoimmune disorders are some of the most common reasons people develop TMD.

It is estimated women are three times more likely than men to develop symptoms, in part because their jaws are structured differently. Individuals between the ages of 20 and 40 are also at higher risk for developing TMD.3

Diagnosing TMD

A dental professional can diagnose TMD symptoms by listening for clicking and grinding while observing your jaw’s range of motion. They may also use an X-ray, CT scan or MRI to get a clearer picture of the joint and disc to better determine the cause of your symptoms.

It is important to note that jaw pain or even clicking alone do not always indicate TMD, so it is best to see a dentist for a proper diagnosis.

TMD Home Treatments

Treating TMD can be done at home and in conjunction with treatments prescribed by a dentist. In many cases, the jaw joint simply needs rest. This means you should refrain from clenching or grinding as much as possible. You should also avoid hard or chewy foods and deep yawning.

Other home treatments include:

  • Meditation, deep breathing and other destressing methods
  • Over-the-counter pain medication
  • Improving posture
  • Stretching and massaging the jaw muscles
  • Using hot and cold packs

TMD Dental Treatments

Bite guards and oral splints are some of the most commonly prescribed remedies for TMD. They are worn at night or during the day to prevent the teeth from touching. Other medical and dental treatments include orthodontic appliances, dental work, pain medication and surgery.

TMD Treatment at Ballas Dental Care

If you are experiencing TMD symptoms, do not hesitate to schedule an appointment with Ballas Dental Care. Our staff utilizes state-of-the-art treatment methods to help our patients return to a pain-free lifestyle as quickly as possible. We are always accepting new patients – call 314-432-5544 today or contact us online to schedule an appointment.


1 https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/sites/default/files/2017-12/tmj-disorders.pdf

2 http://www.tmj.org/Page/34/17

3 https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/conditions/temporomandibular-disorder/temporomandibular-disorders