If you experience numbness or tingling in your fingers and arms, there are plenty of possible culprits. Your doctor may jump to diabetes, which is a common cause of nerve damage in extremities. It’s also a known symptom of stroke, multiple sclerosis, Raynaud’s disease, vascular disease, and even alcohol abuse.

When doctors find that none of these things are the cause, it can be easy to assume it’s nothing and stop investigating. But what if your numb fingers could be a sign of temporomandibular joint disorder, more commonly known as TMJ ? One third of TMJ sufferers report paresthesia of the fingers.

man suffering from pain in hand gripes onto his wrist

How Are Your Fingers Connected To Your Jaw?

It may seem improbable — after all, what does your jaw have to do with your fingers? But just as TMJ can cause pain in the shoulders and back because of our complex system of nerves, our fingers can be affected by an imbalance in the jaw.

The human body, due to its vertical build, is very dependent on proper balance. When one part of the body is out of balance, the rest of the body has to work to make up for it. TMJ is caused by an imbalance in the systems of the jaw, creating tension between the bones and muscles in the jaw and head. This tension has to be compensated for, which can lead to further imbalance in the shoulders to make up for it.

Guess what is also located near the shoulders? The nerves that control your arms are actually rooted in the neck vertebrae, and cross between the muscles of your shoulders on their way down your arms and to your fingers. That means tension in the muscles of the shoulders can easily put pressure on the nerves that carry feeling from your fingers to your spine.

Treating Tingling by Treating TMJ

If your tingling fingers are caused by TMJ, you may have sought treatment before and found it to be unsuccessful. Without being able to identify the source of the paresthesia, treatments will either be ineffective or will only work for short periods of time.

The good news is, treating the underlying TMJ can also reduce or even eliminate the numbness and tingling in your fingers that results from the jaw imbalance. Here’s how: An experienced TMJ dentist like Dr. Adam Hahn will first determine if TMJ is the source of your symptoms. Your dentist can use TENS (sort of like an electric massage) to relax your jaw muscles into the ideal position of least tension — where your jaw would be resting if you didn’t suffer from TMJ. This allows your dentist to map the goal position for your jaw.

For people with very mild TMJ, periodic TENS treatments may be enough to resolve the problem. For severe TMJ, there are plenty of drug-free, non-invasive treatments to try. Your dentist may create a custom bite splint, similar to a mouth guard, to retrain your jaw to rest in a position of least tension. If a bite splint effectively solves the problem, you can even have dental restoration done as a more permanent solution.

If you think you may have TMJ, call (803) 781-9090 or contact Smile Columbia Dentistry online to schedule an appointment.