TMD or TMJ What’s The Difference?


TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint.

TMD stands for temporomandibular dysfunction. When someone has pain in their “jaw joint” they say they have “TMJ.” That’s like saying I have knee when you have pain in your knee joint. The more meaningful description is to say I have TMD or I have pain in my jaw joint or pain in my facial muscles. Anyone will know what you mean when you say I have TMJ, but to a dentist trying to figure out exactly where your pain is coming from, he will ask you to point to that area of you face where you feel pain. Then he will ask you, “When does it hurt? How long have you been hurting this way? Is there anything that makes this pain go away or that makes the pain worse. Have you EVER been in an automobile accident? Were you ever struck in the jaw? Do you have arthritis or other inflammatory diseases? Do you have popping or clicking when you chew or open your mouth? Is the popping or clicking painful?”

When should you seek treatment for a TMD condition? There are three things to remember to answer this question: One, is their pain? Two, is there dysfunction (popping, clicking, grinding on opening, are your jaw muscle painful when you open close or chew something)? Three, is your quality of life affected by this jaw pain (can you chew or open your mouth wide without pain?). If you have two out of the three things listed above, then you need to see a dentist that is knowledgeable at treating jaw joint or facial pain conditions. Not all general dentists know how to treat TMD. There is no dental specialty recognized by the ADA (although there should be) that treat TMD or head and neck related pains. There are academies or groups of dentists that pursue advanced learning in these areas. I have made the effort to learn these skills and love helping people with “TMJ” TMD problems.