TMD and TMJ: Everything You Need to Know

Written by Dr. DeAngelis

You’re probably all too familiar with knee pain and back pain, but you might not be as familiar with the causes of jaw pain. 


That snapping sensation when you chew and the tense feeling when you speak aren’t normal. A quick search on the internet will tell you that conditions called TMD or TMJ could be to blame, but they’re commonly confused and misrepresented. 


Once you begin to experience the intense discomfort associated with TMJ and TMD, you will want and need to understand the difference between these misunderstood acronyms. Let’s take a minute to set the record straight!

TMJ: The Temporomandibular Joint

TMJ stands for the temporomandibular joint, which is the hinge that connects your jaw to the temporal bone. Though you probably didn’t know it by name, you know exactly where to find the temporal bone located in the front of each ear. 


When your TMJ works properly, it allows you to move your jaw up, down, and side to side. Most people take their TMJ for granted as they smile, yawn, chew, and talk without any pain or difficulty. 


However, when the TMJ starts to experience dysfunction, you feel the results in the form of significant pain. This condition is often mistakenly referred to as TMJ, but its proper name is actually temporomandibular disorder (TMD). 

Causes and Symptoms of Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD)

TMD is the most common form of pain and inflammation that impacts the temporomandibular joints.


Different factors are known to trigger TMD. If you recognize any of these causes, you may be at increased risk of TMD:

  • Grinding and clenching your teeth
  • Arthritis in the TMJ
  • Movement of the disc between the ball and socket of the TMJ


TMD makes itself known through many symptoms that are easy to notice:

  • Pain and tenderness in the joint area
  • Difficulty opening the mouth wide
  • Clicking and popping in the jaw joint
  • Trouble chewing


The signs of TMD can even extend beyond the mouth to impact the neck, shoulders, and ear areas. These symptoms often include pain radiating down the jaw and neck, earaches, hearing problems, and dizziness. 


Since facial pain might also indicate other problems, like sinus infections, facial neuralgias, and headaches, it’s important to have a TMJ disorder definitively diagnosed by a qualified dentist. 

How to Treat TMD

Though TMD is painful and often makes simple tasks difficult, your dentist can provide the treatment you need to feel comfortable once again. The easiest and most common solution to TMD is a night guard. 


This affordable device lessens the effects of clenching and grinding at night by putting your teeth into the correct resting position. If your clenching and grinding problem occur during the day as well, a splint can be used for round-the-clock use. 


Certain medications like NSAIDs can help to alleviate pain temporarily. You can also help alleviate symptoms of your TMJ disorder at home by eating softer foods, practicing relaxation techniques that minimize jaw tension, and using heat packs to reduce pain. 


For severe TMD, high-tech treatments like transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, ultrasound, and radio wave therapy might be able to deliver results.

More About Occlusal Guards

Sleep is a time to fully relax and let the body recover and heal from the previous day, but if you have a problem with grinding and clenching your teeth, sleep might actually cause additional harm to your TMJ. In fact, many people suffer from nighttime grinding and clenching without realizing it. 


An occlusal guard is horseshoe-shaped piece of plastic customized to your mouth and teeth to provide a soft barrier that prevents additional damage from occurring as you grind and clench your teeth in your sleep. 


This type of guard protects against jaw joint problems, worn teeth surfaces, headaches, and overall discomfort. Although an occlusal guard cannot directly solve the problem that causes grinding and clenching, it can encourage the jaws to relax overnight, which decreases the amount of damage your TMJ endures. After wearing your occlusal guard for a few weeks, you will most likely wonder how you ever survived without it!


Most occlusal guards are created from a hard or soft acrylic or composite. Your dentist will assess the condition of your mouth and function of your TMJ to determine whether you need an upper guard, called a maxillary guard, or a lower guard, called a mandibular guard. 


Once that’s determined, an impression will be made of your teeth and used to fabricate an occlusal guard designed to protect your teeth and TMJ each night. It’s important to clean your guard each morning and store it in a dry place. Depending on your level of grinding, your guard may last you many years before it needs to be replaced. 


Overall, wearing an occlusal guard at night will minimize the damage done to your teeth and jaw, reduce the strain on your TMJ, and deliver a better quality of sleep through the night. 

Don’t Wait to Get Relief From TMD 

The intense pain that radiates from your TMJ can diminish your entire quality of life. When TMD develops, you can’t chew properly, speak comfortably, or relax without the burden of intense pain. 


Dr. DeAngelis understands the severity of TMD and has the tools and experience necessary to treat your condition effectively. The team at DeAngelis Family Dentistry in Carlsbad, CA is committed to helping you regain comfort throughout your mouth, jaw, and neck. 


Call (760) 444-5507 today to schedule your first appointment and seek the relief you need!


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