What is TMD?

One of the biggest causes for the most common types of problems with the jaw and the muscles in the face is temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD. Sometimes mistakenly called TMJ, after the joint, this is a common condition that can be frequently misdiagnosed. But what exactly is it? What treatments are available? And how does this relate to orthodontics? Dillehay Orthodontics breaks it down for you below, so keep reading to find out more!

What is the difference between TMJ and TMD?

These two abbreviations are used interchangeably all the time. To understand the differences between the two, it’s important to understand that TMJ is not actually a disease or illness. It actually stands for temporomandibular joint, the hinge points connecting your jaw bones to your head. These are located directly in front of the ears, and they are what give us the ability to speak and chew our food.

The TMJ boasts an impressive amount of mobility, rotating, gliding, and acting as a powerful hinge all at once. It’s surrounded by a series of complex protectors like tendons, muscles, and joint pads, and most of the time, all these things work extremely well together. However, things can get thrown off course sometimes, and this can lead to pain, popping, and inflammation, which is especially troublesome when it occurs in one of the joints your body uses most often.

It’s at this junction that TMD, or temporomandibular joint disorder, can come into play — this is the frustrating, and sometimes painful, set of conditions that can affect your TMJ. Every case of TMD is different, with some symptoms popping up only briefly, and others taking years to resolve.

Some of the most common signs of TMD are:

  • pain or tenderness in the face, jaw joint, neck and shoulders
  • pain in or around the ear when chewing, speaking, or opening the mouth wide
  • trouble opening the mouth wide
  • jaws that get stuck or locked in an open- or closed-mouth position
  • licking, popping, or grating sounds in the jaw joint when you opening or closing the mouth, or when chewing
  • face feeling “tired”
  • trouble chewing
  • uncomfortable bite that feels as if the upper and lower teeth are not fitting together properly
  • swelling on the side of your face
  • ringing or stuffy ears

The symptoms of TMD can be similar to other common dental issues, such as tooth decay, gum disease, or even arthritis. For proper diagnosis and treatment, it’s essential you have a thorough examination by an experienced professional like Dr. Dillehay or Dr. J.K.

What causes TMD?

Sore jawTMD symptoms arise from problems with the muscles of your jaw or with the parts of the joint itself. While injury to your jaw, the joint, or the muscles of your head and neck can lead to TMD, other causes include things like


  • Grinding or clenching your teeth, putting extra pressure on the joint
  • Movement of the soft cushion or disc between the ball and socket of the joint
  • Arthritis in the joint
  • Stress, which can tighten facial and jaw muscles or clench the teeth


As mentioned above, the TMJ is surrounded by a complex network of tendons, muscles, bone, and nerves. One of these is the trigeminal nerve, which plays a part in how you bite, chew, swallow, and register sensation on your face. An untreated “bad” bite condition or a misaligned jaw can also put undue stress on these sensitive, connected components, resulting in chronic shooting pain throughout the face, neck, shoulders, back, and arms, among other symptoms.

How is TMD diagnosed?

Using state-of-the-art technology, our team at Dillehay Orthodontics are able to pinpoint the source of the TMD. An accurate diagnosis of TMD comes from measuring aspects of the teeth and jaw, determining the jaw’s proper resting position, and mapping the jaw movement during speaking and eating. A proper diagnosis, along with knowledge of the source of the TMD, is what provides the foundation for a customized treatment plan.

How is TMD treated?

In some cases, TMD can be treated by correcting poor oral habits such as pen biting, ice chewing, or teeth grinding. Splints or night guards are plastic mouthpieces that fit over the upper and lower teeth to keep them from touching. These can lessen the effects of clenching or grinding, and help correct the bite by putting teeth in a more desirable position. Missing teeth may need to be replaced, and crowns and bridges can balance the biting surfaces of the teeth. For TMD patients who require more complex bite correction, orthodontic treatment such as braces or Invisalign may be required.


There are also some common ways to help ease the discomfort of TMD, or avoid it altogether:


  • Avoid extreme jaw movements. Keep the chewing of things such as gum and ice to a minimum, and don’t yell, sing, or do anything that forces the mouth to open wide.
  • Don’t allow the chin to rest on the hand, or hold the phone between the shoulder and ear.
  • Practice good posture to reduce neck and facial pain.
  • Keep teeth slightly apart as often as possible to relieve pressure on the jaw. Placing the tongue between the teeth can help control clenching or grinding during the day.
  • Learn relaxation techniques to help loosen up the jaw, or look into physical therapy or message.


If left untreated, TMD can lead to inflammation, swelling, and chronic pain. It can also contribute to progressive dental problems, such as premature tooth wear and periodontal disease.


TMD diagnosis and treatment in Wichita with Dillehay Orthodontics

To learn more about TMD diagnosis and treatment in Wichita or the surrounding area, get in touch with Dillehay Orthodontics today to schedule a free consultation with Dr. Dillehay or Dr. J.K. With five convenient locations, experienced staff, and a dedication to first-class service, we’re on the front line to keep your smile beautiful, healthy, and functional.