TMD vs TMJ: Understanding Jaw Problems and Pain

Your eyes are heavy and the sharp pain in your head is only getting worse. It’s there when you go to sleep and even worse when you wake up. You might have gotten used to the dull ache on the side of your face, but occasionally the pain is so bad you can’t even open your mouth.

If any of this sounds familiar, you might be suffering from temporomandibular disorders or TMD. Keep reading as we unpack the differences between TMD vs TMJ this common cause of jaw pain and how to deal with it.


If you’ve had jaw problems in the past you’ve probably encountered the acronyms TMD and TMJ in your research or diagnosis. These terms are often used interchangeably to describe pain and inflammation in the jaw. 

However, these refer to different things. TMJ or temporomandibular joints are small, delicate joints that connect the jawbone to the skull. They’re located just in front of the ears and are responsible for jaw movements in talking, yawning, and chewing.

TMD (temporomandibular disorders) on the other hand, refers to a disorder in both or either of these joints. As your TMJ joints are small and get a lot of use, they’re prone to inflammation and pain. 

What Causes TMD?

The exact cause of TMD is unknown. However, TMD is more likely to be brought on by extenuating factors. These include injuries in the area, grinding of teeth at night, arthritis in the joint, or a tight muscle from stress. 

Stress is a particularly common cause as we tend to clench our jaw muscles – at times unconsciously – when we’re under a lot of strain.

Dental issues like an overbite might lead to TMD down the line. This is why it’s important to start going to the dentist from a young age so that any misalignment can be rectified with orthodontics (learn more about TMD and orthodontics here).


Depending on its cause, TMD can start off mild and become more painful without treatment. 

Common symptoms might include: 

  • Pain or tenderness in the area around the joint 
  • Swelling around the jaw 
  • Inability to open your mouth wide or at all
  • Lockjaw when your mouth is open or closed 

TMD should only be diagnosed by a healthcare professional. This is because other ailments, like gum disease or tooth decay, may cause a similar discomfort in your jaw. Your doctor will most likely perform a thorough oral exam and may choose to take X-Rays to rule out other causes. 


Treatment for TMD will depend entirely on its cause. Treatment plans might include regular physiotherapy, lifestyle changes like quitting smoking and drinking and taking anti-inflammatories.

If the pain caused by TMD is severe, a hot or cold pack might provide some relief. Also, make sure to only eat soft foods like soup and yogurt to give your TMJ and jaw muscle a rest. 

When TMD is caused by stress or teeth grinding, exercises like meditation or cognitive behavioral therapy are worth exploring as they alleviate stress and severe anxiety.

TMD: The Bottom Line

Clearing up the confusion between TMD vs TMJ is only the beginning of fixing your chronic jaw problems. Jaw pain can be tough to deal with but speaking to a healthcare professional about your options and finding the right home treatments can work wonders. For more medical news and insights, check out the rest of our health section!

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