TMJ Disorder Myths and Misconceptions Debunked By Jeffrey S. Kearney DDS on August 29, 2023

Woman with TMJ with eyes closed as dentist massages her facial muscles

Temporomandibular joint disorder, also known as TMD, can be painful and damaging to your oral health. However, it is often underdiagnosed, and there are several myths and misconceptions about TMD. We will debunk several of these myths as well as explore facts about TMJ disorder. I will also explain how treatment at my dental practice in Cary, NC, can help ease your pain and protect your oral health.

7 Common Myths About TMJ Disorder

Here are seven of the most common misconceptions people have about TMJ disorders.

1. TMJ and TMD Are the Same Things

The most common misconception about TMD is the name itself. TMJ refers to the temporomandibular joint. This is the joint that connects the jaw to the skull. There are two TMJs, one on each side of the face. TMD is the actual disorder and it is used interchangeably with the term TMJ disorder. TMD is a condition that causes jaw pain, inflammation, and other issues in the jaw, neck, and shoulders. This can lead to other oral health concerns.

2. Bruxism and TMJ Disorder Are the Same Things

Bruxism and TMD are different. Bruxism is when you grind or clench your teeth. While bruxism is a symptom of TMJ disorders, it does not signify TMD on its own. Like any other symptom, some patients who have TMD do not have bruxism, and some do.

3. Surgery Is the Only Solution to TMD

Surgery is not the only solution to TMJ disorder and is only used as a last resort. There are several other treatment options. At my Cary dental practice, I strive to provide the least invasive treatment possible to treat your concerns. I will only recommend surgery if other treatment options fail or if I believe that surgery is your best chance at relief from your symptoms.

4. I Already Have a Nightguard, So I Don't Need Further Treatment

If you have a splint or a nightguard but you are still experiencing symptoms of TMD, you may need further treatment to help resolve your pain and any other issues. There are several treatment options and we will work closely with you to develop a carefully customized treatment plan.

5. Jaw Pain Is the Only Symptom of TMD

Jaw pain is one of the most common symptoms of TMJ disorder, but it is not the only symptom. Each patient is different, and I look at several factors before diagnosing a patient with TMJ.

6. TMD Is Rare

TMJ disorder affects 5-12% of people, so it is not as rare as people think. These numbers could also be higher as TMD is often underdiagnosed.

7. You Don't Need to Treat TMD

People often assume that TMD doesn't need to be treated if it is minor. While it might be minor to begin with, untreated TMJ disorders can lead to jaw dislocation, loose teeth, tooth loss, damaged teeth, arthritis, and more. It is best to treat the issue before it becomes worse and causes more extensive damage to your oral health.

While teeth grinding is a symptom of TMJ disorders, it does not signify TMD on its own. We can treat teeth grinding and more complex TMJ issues.

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Facts About TMD

To balance things out, here are four facts about TMD.

1. TMJ Disorder Can Cause Headaches

Headaches can be a symptom of TMJ disorder. This is due to the stress put on the TMJs that can trigger pain and inflammation elsewhere in the neck, shoulders, and face. Many patients with chronic headaches are surprised to learn that their headaches actually improve after TMJ disorder treatment.

2. TMD Affects Women More than Men

While the cause is unknown, women are statistically more likely to develop pain and issues in the TMJs than men. In fact, studies have shown that women are twice as likely to develop TMD as men.

3. TMJ Disorders Can Cause Tooth Loss

TMD can lead to enamel and structural damage to the teeth. This can lead to tooth loss and gum recession, which can then lead to other oral health concerns, such as jaw bone deterioration.

4. A Misaligned Bite Can Cause TMJ Disorder

When your bite is not properly aligned, you tend to use one side of your mouth to chew more than the other, putting stress on your TMJs. Once the jaw is properly aligned, it relieves this stress to ease the symptoms of TMD.

Symptoms of TMJ Disorder

There are many possible symptoms of TMD. Some patients experience a few, and some patients experience several symptoms. Symptoms of TMJ disorder include:

  • Pain in the jaw
  • Swelling or inflammation in the jaw
  • Shoulder pain
  • Facial pain
  • Headaches
  • Tooth pain or sensitivity
  • Bruxism (clenching or grinding teeth)
  • Jaw stiffness
  • Clicking or popping sound in the jaw
  • Tinnitus (ears ringing)
  • Ear feels full or like it has water in it

What Can Cause TMD?

TMJ disorder can be caused by a number of things, including:

  • Jaw or facial injury
  • Arthritis
  • Stress
  • Misaligned Bite
  • Genetics
  • Certain medications

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How Is TMD Diagnosed?

When you visit our Cary dental practice, I will physically examine your mouth and jaw. I will then use advanced dental technology to get a more in-depth picture of your mouth and jaw structures in order to determine if you have TMD.

Our technology includes Sirona® 3D imaging, iTero® intraoral scans, Joint Vibration Analysis (JVA), and Biopack instrumentation. Using this technology, I can then craft a custom treatment plan to fit your unique needs.

TMJ Disorder Treatment

Treatment will vary based on your unique needs. Treatments may include:

  • Splint Therapy - Splint therapy involves using a custom-fitted oral appliance, much like an athletic mouthguard. A splint repositions your jaw to improve alignment and reduce stress on your joints. It can also cushion your teeth if you grind or clench. A splint is worn at night while you sleep.
  • Trigger Point Injections - This is used for patients experiencing severe TMD pain. A local anesthetic and other pain-relieving medications, such as Sarapin®, are injected into the TMJs to reduce discomfort and inflammation.
  • Electrotherapy - While this may sound scary, it is a simple, conservative treatment option. Electrotherapy is used to stimulate blood flow and reduce inflammation, which can ease pain. I will either use an ultrasound wand or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). This is not painful and is a non-invasive way to promote healing.
  • Laser Therapy - Our MLS® laser is a non-cutting cold laser that targets inflammation. This laser can be used to reduce muscle tightness and pain in all the areas associated with TMJ.
  • Orthodontics - If your TMD is caused by a misaligned bite, orthodontic treatment such as braces or Invisalign® may be suggested to help correct the issue and ease your pain. Our Cary dental practice offers both traditional braces and Invisalign clear aligners.

Don't Live With TMJ Pain
Contact a Dentist Today

Issues with the temporomandibular joint can serious pain and oral health complications. You don't have to live with this pain and potentially damaging effects. If you have symptoms of TMD, contact our dental practice in Cary, NC, to schedule a consultation and get the relief you need.



Jeffrey S. Kearney, DDS

About Jeffrey S. Kearney, DDS
A dentist since 1992, Dr. Jeffrey Kearney has extensive training in TMJ and sleep-breathing disorders. He is a member of the Academy of General Dentistry and a fellow of the American Academy of Craniofacial Pain and the International Congress of Oral Implantologists.

Read Dr. Kearney's Full Bio | All Posts by Jeffrey Kearney

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Dr. Jeffrey Kearney

Jeffrey S. Kearney, DDS

Dr. Kearney specializes in comfortable, comprehensive dental services at his modern and inviting family practice in Cary, NC. He is trained to surgically place and restore dental implants and also offers the latest treatments to treat TMJ issues, sleep apnea, and orthodontic problems. Prestigious affiliations include:

  • American Academy of Craniofacial Pain
  • International Congress of Oral Implantologists
  • Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies
  • Academy of General Dentistry

Whether you are new to the Cary, NC, area or are a lifelong resident looking for a caring, highly trained dental professional, our team would love to meet you. Contact us online or call (919) 859-4778 to request an appointment.

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