Temporomandibular joint disorder or TMJ is becoming better known, but probably more people suffer from the disorder than know much about it. According to National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, and estimated 10 million Americans have already been diagnosed with TMJ. However, most of them are undiagnosed. When people think of TMJ symptoms–if they think of them at all–they consider jaw pain or clicking or popping noises while chewing to be the most common. While it is true that many with TMJ experience these symptoms, TMJ is considered an umbrella term which describes a set of dysfunctions affecting the temporomandibular joint. What this means for sufferers is that both symptoms and the severity of symptoms can vary dramatically from patient to patient. Even if you don’t suffer from the more common symptoms like popping noises in the jaw, there are other TMJ signs you may be missing.
Not only are headaches a common symptom for several disorders but sometimes they don’t point to a larger disorder at all. Because they are so often hard to diagnose, they’re often overlooked by both patients and doctors. If you regularly experience headaches, however, they may be a sign of TMJ. Tension headaches are the most common headache associated with TMJ, and are usually felt as a “vice-like” pressure in the head. Tension headaches, however, can also trigger migraines, which affect over 23 million Americans. Although TMJ hasn’t been definitively linked to migraines, it’s possible there is a connection between an overstimulated trigeminal nerve, which is irritated by TMJ.
Vertigo or Dizziness
Have you frequently experienced vertigo or dizziness throughout your day? This could be a sign of TMJ. In order to maintain balance, your brain relies on your vestibular system in you inner ear, information gathered from your eyes, and you body’s sense of muscles and joints. The vestibular system is located in your inner ear, within your temporal bone, which is also where your jaw attaches to your skull. Inflammation and jaw misalignment stemming from TMJ can lead to misalignment or dysfunction of the vestibular system, causing conflicting brain signals that could affect your balance or lead to dizziness.
Tinnitus or Ear Pain
Tinnitus, also known as ringing in the ears, coupled with ear pain can also be a sign of TMJ. When your jaw is out of alignment or the muscles around the joint become inflamed, this could cause or contribute to spasms which cause pain in the inner ear. While tinnitus is a somewhat difficult condition to diagnose, as it is not fully understood, these spasm could also contribute to ringing noises in the ears.
Some studies show that about 80% of people with TMJ experience tinnitus and other ear-related symptoms.
Don’t Wait for TMJ Treatment
TMJ can be a degenerative disorder that only causes more damage in the future. If you’ve been experiencing any of the above symptoms in conjunction with jaw pain or tooth grinding (bruxism), you should schedule an appointment with a dentist with training focused on treating TMJ.
TMJ can be complicated to understand, and this page contains some technical information that may be easier to understand in person. Dr. Adam Hahn is an expert at explaining it in plain, straightforward language. To talk to them about TMJ, please call (803) 781-9090 or contact Smile Columbia Dentistry in Columbia, SC today for an appointment.