In Arizona, I hear the term TMJ frequently rather than TMD. So, what is the difference, is there a difference, aren’t they the same thing?
TMJ simply stands for Temporo Mandibular Joint and the term TMD is Temporo Mandibular Dysfunction or Disorder.
There are two bones and a disk or cushion in between these bones that make up the joint.
The top portion of the joint is temporal bone, the bottom portion is the mandible or jaw bone.
One big issue with the TMJ is that the mandible or jaw can move three dimensionally, making TMJ difficult to treat because we have two joints suspended on one jaw bone.
I have treated TMJ disorders in three states, each of which referred to jaw pain differently. So, let’s clear the air and explain what is TMJ.
TMJ, for most people means that they have jaw joint pain, they point to this area immediately, and they have clicking and popping present. For, practitioners, clicking and popping means that there is a problem within the joint and the cushion that is between the two bones is in an unhealthy position, or, in other terms, the disk is dislocated.
TMD, as we described earlier, usually indicates that there is no clicking or popping but you do have sore jaw muscles and headaches, neck pain, and it’s hard to open your mouth completely. For example, it is hard for you to stay open while getting your teeth cleaned, or you have trouble opening wide to take a bite out of an apple.
Do we treat TMJ differently than TMD? Not really. Firstly, the examination is the same. In both cases, whether there is clicking or popping present or not, we recommend a specialized splint to help “recapture” the disk and relieve the clicking and popping and help tight muscles to relax.
Physical therapy in the form of myofascial release is performed to release tension is soft tissues, fascia, and muscles. Treatments are gentle and focus on the jaw and neck.
Other treatment such as the use of TENS, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, are also helpful.
When I am giving a seminar on treating TMJ one thing I mention is that there is more than one way to “skin the cat”. Each individual may benefit from a different combination of therapies and that is okay. Do what works best for you and gets you out of pain.
In my opinion, a combination of therapies, the customized splint with physical modalities is the most conservative treatment that works in most cases.