By Dr. Frederick Abeles

Published February 27, 2022

Home Blog What’s the difference between TMJ and TMD?

The difference between temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is that TMJ is the joint directly in front of your ear that connects your lower jaw to your head and TMD is a disorder of the actual temporomandibular joint causing pain or dysfunction. 

So, TMJ is an abbreviation for temporomandibular joint. It’s commonly called the TMJ. TMD is an abbreviation for temporomandibular disorder. In other words, the actual pain and dysfunction.

Now that we’ve clarified the distinction of the two words, let’s make it a little more interesting. I’m not sure how this vernacular ever got started, but nine out of ten people that have problems with their temporomandibular joint simply say, “I have TMJ.”

At the Atlanta Center for TMJ we’ve treated thousands of patients with TMJ disorders. Here’s the thing… not even one patient in a hundred ever says, “I have TMD.”

So, there you have it. TMJ describes the actual joint. And TMD describes the joint dysfunction.

Ah, but that was too easy. They had to make it complicated.

If we have a TMJ problem, we call it “TMJ” not “TMD.”

Confused? I don’t blame you.

“I pretty much try to stay in a constant state of confusion just because of the expression it leaves on my face.”   – Johnny Depp

What’s the most important thing for you to know right now?

Well, it’s definitely not semantics: TMJ versus TMD.

Do you have a problem?

Does your jaw click or pop when you open or close your mouth?

Does it ‘catch’ when you open?

Has it locked closed or locked open?

Do you have persistent pain?

Does your bite feel off?

Do you have ringing in your ears or blocked stuffy ears?

Headaches that haven’t gone away?

Have you shifted your diet to eat softer foods?

Have you tried to fix it previously and become frustrated because of poor results?

Have you been taking pills to dull the pain?

If you have a TMJ problem… just be sure you truly understand how much risk you’re taking.

“If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”  – Eubie Blake

TMJ dysfunction is a degenerative disease. It’s no different than having a poor functioning hip or knee. Without treatment, it worsens. Symptoms may come and go. But the underlying cause of the problem persists and the joint continues to degenerate.

How do you think people wind up with hip replacements or knee replacements? It sure didn’t happen overnight. They ignored their problem for too long. The pills, the gizmos they bought online, the chiropractic adjustments, the massages didn’t stop the damage.

Right now, you need to make a choice. Follow your gut… or follow the data.

Your gut is telling you it will go away. Just ignore it long enough and it will heal itself. Take a few more pills.

But you need to ignore your gut and follow the data. The facts show that persistent clicking, popping, locking or pain around the joints leads to further damage. How do I know? Because this is the only problem we treat in our practice. Day in. Day out. For decades.

And over and over again I see people who ignored their TMJ problem for too long, assuming it would fix itself. And their approach worked… right up until it didn’t. Don’t join their ranks. Get help. Somewhere.

If you’re planning on getting better, you’ve got two choices. You can come to terms with the fact that there’s an underlying cause of your TMJ pain and dysfunction – that pills aren’t going to cure. Or you can keep filling prescriptions and trying other silly approaches that won’t correct it.
“What the wise man does at the beginning, the fool does at the end.”   – Warren Buffett

Either way, it doesn’t matter if you call it TMJ or TMD. Just call the doctor. And get help.

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