Your jaw is killing you, you have recurring headaches, and you’re grinding your teeth into dust. It’s got to be TMJ — right? Not so fast! While symptoms like jaw pain, chronic headaches or migraines, and bruxism can certainly be hallmarks of temporomandibular joint disorder, they could also very well be signs of something else. Misdiagnosis is common when it comes to TMJ, so it’s important to make sure to read the signs correctly and look out for symptoms that could be red flags of different health issues.

Lyme Disease Often Confused for TMJ

April through October is considered “tick season,” which means that we’re right in the middle of the prime season for Lyme disease to be misdiagnosed as TMJ. This tick-borne disease can be deadly if untreated, which is why it’s so important that it be properly diagnosed so that it can be treated with antibiotics.

Some symptoms of Lyme disease include joint pain, including pain in the joint of the jaw, and numbness of the extremities. Sound familiar? That may be because jaw pain and tingling or numb fingers are both common symptoms of TMJ.

So how do you tell Lyme disease from TMJ? Other TMJ symptoms, such as vertigo, headaches, and popping or clicking sounds from the jaw are not related to Lyme disease, so the presence of those symptoms is a good sign that you may have TMJ. Lyme disease also typically comes with a bulls-eye shaped rash around the site of the tick bite, a fever, and other flu-like symptoms.

Is It a Ganglion Cyst?

Another health problem that may be masquerading as TMJ is a ganglion cyst. While these fibrous cysts full of joint fluid are most common on the wrists and ankles, they may also develop on the temporomandibular joint.

A ganglion cyst can cause the swelling and jaw pain characteristic of TMJ. However, just like Lyme disease, it won’t cause the popping and clicking sounds that indicate TMJ. Also, a ganglion cyst is more likely to be visible in the form of a rounded protrusion on one side of the jaw. You can tell this kind of swelling from typical TMJ swelling because a cyst will feel like a fluid-filled sac, while TMJ swelling will simply feel like muscles or cartilage.

Is It Trigeminal Neuralgia?

Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic pain condition of the trigeminal nerve–the same nerve that is responsible for many TMJ symptoms. This overlap in conditions can make it hard to distinguish between trigeminal neuralgia and TMJ.

With trigeminal neuralgia, you’re more likely to get short, sharp, recurring pains that come after touching your cheek, brushing your teeth, or otherwise contacting areas served by the trigeminal nerve. Most often, the pain affects only a small area of the face. The pain can be moderate to severe. Over time, this can be progressive and lead to more chronic throbbing pain.

Is it Migraines?

People experience migraines for a variety of reasons — in fact, medical researchers aren’t entirely sure what causes migraines still, although they have identified plenty of triggers that impact different people.

If you experience migraines, the possible causes are numerous. But if you experience migraines and other symptoms of TMJ, it may be worth seeking TMJ treatment. That treatment can release the tension in your jaw and, in some cases, prevent those chronic headaches or migraines.

Not sure if what you’re suffering is a result of TMJ? You can speak to an experienced TMJ dentist and find out the root of the problem. Call (803) 781-9090 or contact Smile Columbia Dentistry online to schedule an appointment right here in Columbia, South Carolina.