What Does TMJ Stand for?

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As with so many things in life, it depends on who you ask. Many people will have no clue what you’re talking about. Others may confidently say that TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint disorder. But still others will say that TMJ just stands for the temporomandibular joint, and that the disorder is called either TMD or TMJD. And some people will say it stands for the current head of Malaysian soccer, the Crown Prince of Johor, Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, although how that abbreviation works, we can’t say.

So how did we end up with confusion about the abbreviation for this condition? The answer to that is, as with so many quirks of language, tradition.

What Does TMJ Stand for?

A Condition with No Name

People first began to describe TMJ/TMD in the late nineteenth century, with British surgeon Thomas Annandale described surgery on the jaw to relieve pain and symptoms like locked jaw, painful chewing, and jaw clicking and popping. But he didn’t give the condition a name.

Others began to recognize the condition, though, and added to the list of symptoms associated with it. New symptoms recognized included tinnitus, vertigo, and speech difficulties. But still the condition went without a name.

An Unpopular Early Name

It wasn’t until 1934 that the condition was given a name, Costen’s syndrome, by otolaryngologist James B. Costen. Costen is also the one who first linked the condition to malocclusion and recognized that headache was a common symptom.

Although the name was embraced at first, it didn’t take long before this name fell into disfavor. Instead, by about 1948, people were calling the condition TMJ.

Changing Names, Changing Symptoms, Changing Causes

People weren’t happy with TMJ as a name for the condition, and they weren’t happy with Costen’s description of it, either. By 1959, people were calling the condition TMD.

Tongue pain was downplayed as a symptom, and people began to look for causes beyond the teeth and jaws. In particular, people became interested in the role of muscles, stress, and bruxism in causing the condition. Emphasis was placed on this with names like names like myofacial pain dysfunction syndrome (MPD or MPDS), first used in 1969. This was, to some extent, an attempt to take emphasis off the jaw joint, which was only part of the problem in this complex disorder. But then there was an attempt to unify the factions with a name that included both parts: temporomandibular joint pain dysfunction syndrome (TMJ-PDS), but that’s an unruly mess.

The Condition Gets Its “Official” Name

In 1992, two major organizations came together to make an official declaration of a name and abbreviation. The Craniomandibular Institute and the American Academy of Orofacial Pain came together and said the condition should be called “temporomandibular disorder” and should be abbreviated “TMD.”

But because of tradition and the long history of different names, many people still call it TMJ.

No Matter What You Call It, We Can Help

When it comes down to it, what really matters is not the name of the condition, but your symptoms and how we can resolve them. In the office, we’ll use terms we’re both comfortable with that help us communicate properly, and then we’ll get down to the business of scientifically diagnosing your individual condition.

If you’re looking for a neuromuscular dentist in Nashville who can treat your jaw pain, headaches, and other symptoms, please call (615) 383-6787 today for an appointment with Dr. Kent E. White at the Center for Advanced Dentistry.