I need help! I’m having trouble understanding the differences between the TMJ and the TMD, but what I do know I have a problem with my jaw. After googling both conditions, I understand what each of them means, but I’m struggling to figure out which one I have — there’s just too much information.
A month ago I started having this pain in my jaw every night. I remember having a similar feeling when I was young, especially after eating a lot of nuts or similar hard foods. It would give me a jaw ache. When I started having pain again a few weeks ago, it didn’t seem like anything serious and it was just at night, so I didn’t bother going to the doctor/dentist. After a few days, it started hurting earlier in the day for longer periods of time. Now, for the last week or so, my jaw has been hurting almost constantly. It starts in the morning as soon as I eat something. I’ve been meaning to get it checked, but I wanted to see if I could figure it out first by looking online. I found TMD and read that it’s mostly mistaken with TMJ. When I googled TMJ, it seems to be very similar. I’m so confused. Do I have TMJ or TMD? It could be neither, but the two are the closest ones I found that match my symptoms. Can you help? — Kyla
It sounds like you might be on “information overload.” The good news is, however, that you’re sort of on the right track. TMJ refers to the temporomandibular joint (a long name for your jaw joint). By itself, the term doesn’t technically refer to anything other than the joint. TMD, on the other hand, means temporomandibular joint dysfunction, or a problem with the joint. To shorten things, people often call problems with their temporomandibular joint TMJ, even though the phrase doesn’t actually suggest there’s a problem. Most offices know this and will know what you mean if you say you have TMJ though, so having accurate terminology is not a big issue.
The main concern is identifying your problems (i.e. what symptoms you have as well as what parts of your jaw and face they affect). Although you can’t be diagnosed without an exam from a doctor, it does sound like there’s something going on with your bite that irritates your jawbone throughout the day. Some people have problems like this when they grit their teeth as a stress response. If your teeth aren’t coming together properly, they can also irritate your muscles. There are other reasons as well, but those tend to be the primary culprits.
To get started, check in with your primary dentist. He will likely be able to diagnose and treat the problem, so your jaw will settle down. If your bite issues are advanced or you have severe TMD, your dentist will refer you to a specialist for treatment.
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