When a condition has a wide range of symptoms that overlap with other conditions, it’s actually quite common to receive a misdiagnosis. TMJ is often misdiagnosed. Instead of receiving a TMJ diagnosis, their doctor diagnoses them with a different condition. Unfortunately, this can result in ineffective treatments that lead to prolonged pain, sleep interruption, and even psychological stress commonly linked to depression. Until a patient receives an accurate diagnosis, their treatments won’t provide the necessary relief. Here are some of the most commonly misdiagnosed TMJ symptoms to watch out for.

woman massages the side of her face due to jaw pain

Headaches and Migraines

One of the most commonly misdiagnosed TMJ symptoms are headaches and migraines. Usually, someone who suffers from a TMJ disorder gets frequent headaches and migraines due to the muscle strain caused by TMJ. The muscles near the jaw extend across the head and neck so when they’re strained, the pain radiates throughout the head and can cause headaches and migraines.

If you visit a doctor for your frequent headaches or migraines, they may simply diagnose them as migraines. They will likely prescribe you migraine medication to help prevent the headaches from occurring. However, if TMJ is the cause of your headaches, this medication won’t help. With this in mind, if you’re suffering from frequent headaches or migraines and none of the treatments your doctor has prescribed has helped you, please contact our TMJ dentist in Columbia, SC to find out if TMJ is the cause. Once you receive a diagnosis, we can provide you with a treatment plan that will help reduce the number of migraines and headaches you have.


If a car alarm was constantly going off in your neighborhood, you would do anything to get it turned off. Tinnitus is a similar annoyance and another commonly misdiagnosed TMJ symptom. Tinnitus is the result of inner ear hair cell damage and can occur from age-related hearing loss, loud noise exposure, ear bone changes, or earwax blockage. In less common cases, certain conditions such as Meniere’s disease, head or neck injuries, acoustic neuroma, muscle spasms in the inner ear, Eustachian tube dysfunction, or TMJ are the cause.

Many factors can cause tinnitus which is why most patients don’t receive a TMJ diagnosis. Tinnitus often occurs in TMJ patients because of inflammation from the TMJ which is adjacent to the inner ear.

If you’re experiencing tinnitus that won’t go away along with other TMJ symptoms, it’s probably a good idea to visit our Columbia TMJ dentist to find out if TMJ is the cause. With TMJ treatment, we can help your tinnitus symptoms subside. 

Ear Pain

One of the top causes of ear pain is an ear infection. However, if you visit the doctor and discover that you don’t have an ear infection, it can feel incredibly frustrating to not know why your ears hurt. Or even worse, you get a prescription for antibiotics that you don’t actually need and your health suffers even more.

Some common causes of ear pain include ear wax buildup and blockage, air pressure, swimmer’s ear, tonsillitis, cellulitis, shingles, tooth abscesses, cavities, impacted molars, and lastly, TMJ disorder.

So why does TMJ cause ear pain? For starters, the temporomandibular joint is located adjacent to the ear. The inflammation from the jaw can spread to the ears and result in a dull ache in the ear. Sometimes the pain might feel sharp as the jaw moves. With TMJ treatment, as the temporomandibular joint improves, so will the ear pain.

If you’re experiencing ear pain and no treatments have helped, consider seeing our Columbia TMJ dentist for an evaluation. 

Neck or Back Pain

The last commonly misdiagnosed symptom of TMJ that you might experience is back or neck pain. Usually back or neck pain is an indicator of an injury of some sort. If you visit the doctor with complaints of pain in these areas, they will likely look to see if you have a disc herniation, spinal stenosis, sprains or strings, spinal osteoarthritis, or a vertebral compression fracture. If they don’t diagnose any of those conditions, they might just send you to physical therapy to try and alleviate the pain.

It’s not common to associate back and neck pain with something that occurs in your jaw. This is why many patients don’t receive a TMJ diagnosis. However, if you have TMJ, the jaw is out of alignment which means your surrounding muscles must put in extra work to correct the misalignment. This can put a strain on both your back and your neck muscles and therefore result in back and neck pain.

Schedule a TMJ Consultation in Columbia, SC

If you’re suffering from any of the symptoms listed above and have yet to find relief with any treatments, please contact Smile Columbia Dentistry to schedule a TMJ consultation with Dr. Adam Hahn. If you have TMJ, he will provide you with a treatment to finally help put your painful symptoms to rest. Give us a call at (803) 781-9090 to book your appointment today.