What is the difference between TMJ versus TMD?

  • Posted on: Feb 21 2015

That’s a question we hear a lot. Here are the definitions and how the two terms differ:


TMJ is an abbreviation for the anatomical term temporomandibular joint. The temporomandibular is the joint formed where the upper jaw (maxillary) and lower (mandible) jaw meet. The joints are comprised of muscles, tendons, and bones and they are one of the most complex joints in our entire body.

TMJs allow our upper jaw to close on the lower jaw and are responsible for many of the essential functions that our mouths carry out everyday, including chewing, talking, biting, and yawning. If the temporomandibular joint becomes misaligned—or the muscles tense—it may lead to many complications that can inhibit the proper functioning of the jaw and cause pain. (Often everything from recurring neck pain to mouth soreness to headaches.)

TMJ is also often used to refer to temporomandibular joint syndrome – a term referring to the symptoms caused by TMJ disorders including acute or chronic pain in the head, neck, and jaw area.

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TMD refers to temporomandibular joint disease or temporomandibular joint disorder, a condition that occurs when one’s TMJ becomes misaligned. TMD is used to describe a group of diseases that can involve the jaw joints and the muscles that control jaw movement. They occur when there is an imbalance in the smooth working relationship between jaw and skull. A TMJ imbalance results in muscle fatigue, spasm, joint dysfunction, and potential teeth change and it can lead to a variety of painful symptoms.

TMD (or TMJ Syndrome) can be caused by a variety of different types of problems including teeth grinding or clenching, trauma to the mouth or face, misalignment of the jaw (due to genetics or previous dental treatments) or arthritis.

Part of the reason for the confusion between the two terms is that they are often used interchangeably by both doctors and patients. In actuality, TMJ refers only to the jaw joints themselves and TMD to the pain and disorders occurring from TMJ issues.

Correcting the Issue

No matter which term is used, however, TMDs/TMJ can be a serious and painful experience and we are here to help. We have extensive experience in addressing TMJ issues and Dr. Mulder is dedicated to finding effective solutions for TMJ patients.

Experiencing TMJ symptoms? Fill out our TMJ contact form to see how we can help.

Published by: Grand Rapids Dentistry Blog – A Life of Smiles
A Grand Rapids, Michigan based cosmetic, general & sedation dentistry

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