What is TMD and Why is it frequently called “TMJ”?

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD) is a group of symptoms that at times seem to have no relationship with one another. TMD is actually a series of confusing symptoms having a common cause. The cause common to all cases of TMD is inflammation of the jaw joint. All patients with the symptoms of TMD exhibit chronic inflammation of the jaw joint. There are no exceptions. There are two jaw joints, one on the right-hand side of the face and one on the left-hand side of the face in front of the ears. These joints are named the TMJ’s, (Temporomandibular Joints) So TMJ, is the abbreviation for the name of the joint—Temporomandibular Joint. Using “TMJ” in reference to the symptoms of inflammation of the jaw joints is like going to the orthopedic surgeon and announcing you have knees. To be correct, TMJ is just the name of the joint and TMD is the name of the symptom complex that defines the disorder.

What are the Causes of temporomandibular Joint Disorder?

There are three primary causes of temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) and one very rare and poorly understood cause seen primarily in children and adolescents.

The primary causes of TMD are:

  1. Clenching and/or grinding the teeth together over a long period of time. The technical term for this is bruxism.
  2. Acute trauma to the face and jaws, especially motor vehicle accidents that create a “whip lash” injury to the neck and torso
  3. Functional malocclusions or the manner in which the teeth fit together. These functional malocclusions can be large and very obvious to the observer or they can be small but create a large effect, damaging the TMJ’s over a period of time.

These are the three primary causes of TMD and account for 99.99 % of the problems with the jaw joints.

The fourth and very rare, and poorly understood cause of TMD is Idiopathic Juvenile Arthritis (IJA). Idiopathic means “not knowing the origin of a problem”, Juvenile because it always starts out and seen first in childhood, and Arthritis, because it too shares the common finding of inflammation of the jaw joints. Further discussion of IJA is beyond the scope of this article.

What are the Symptoms of Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD)?

There are ten primary symptoms of TMD:

  1. Frequent or recurrent headache
  2. Frequent or recurrent neck pain
  3. Frequent or recurrent earache frequently feeling the pain is deep within the ear
  4. Frequent or recurrent jaw pain
  5.  Ringing or buzzing in the ears (Tinnitus)
  6.  A feeling of fullness in the ears. (Frequently confused with limited hearing)
  7.  Dizziness (Vertigo)
  8.  Upper shoulder pain or tightness
  9.  Arm/hand/ or finger tingling/tightness/numbness/ or pain
  10. Locking or “catching” of the lower jaw when attempting to open widely. This is an inability to open the mouth completely either intermittently or constantly.

These are the ten most common symptoms seen in patients with TMD

They are arranged in this order with the most common as number one and number ten appearing usually after other symptoms have been occurring for years. A patient with TMD does not have to have all of these symptoms and the symptoms will bounce around between and among symptoms over time.

There are several other less common symptoms seen in patients with TMD

Some of these are:

1. Felling like the teeth do not fit together properly
2. Pain in the teeth themselves even though the patient’s dentist has examined the teeth and found nothing abnormal
3. Tingling or numbness on portions of the face
4. Tremors or spasm of muscles of the face
5. Tremors or spasm of the muscles of the tongue.
6. Upper chest pain
7. Visual disturbances