There are many potential problems that can cause TMJ-like symptoms, but it’s important to distinguish between them to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment. One of the less common conditions that can arise in your jaw joint is a ganglion cyst, and under some conditions it can mimic TMJ symptoms.
What Is a Ganglion Cyst?
A ganglion cyst is a cyst that develops in a joint. They’re like a balloon of tough, fibrous material that’s full of the slippery joint fluid that helps nourish and lubricate the joint, called synovial fluid. They’re most commonly found on the wrist and ankles, but in rare cases, they develop on the temporomandibular joint.
No one knows what causes ganglion cysts, though they are sometimes associated with arthritis.
How to Tell the Difference
If you are experiencing jaw-related symptoms, you might wonder how you can tell if you have TMJ or a ganglion cyst.
The biggest difference is that a ganglion cyst is more likely to be highly visible. If you see a round protrusion on one side of your jaw, it’s most likely a ganglion cyst. Although TMJ can lead to changes in your appearance, it’s more likely to result in a tilted jaw and more generalized swelling.
Try pushing on the swollen region. If it feels like a fluid-filled balloon, it’s most likely a cyst. TMJ-related swelling is more likely to be firm, and it should feel like muscles or firm cartilage tissue.
Ganglion cysts may also be painless at first. They only become painful if they start to press on your nerves. If you see a visible swelling at your joint but experience no pain, it’s more likely to be a cyst. In TMJ, it’s more likely that you’ll experience pain before you see any signs of trouble.
A ganglion cyst won’t cause jaw popping or clicking as with TMJ.
Of course, the only way to tell for sure is to see a doctor or dentist about your concerns.
Treating Ganglion Cysts
Currently, there are no medical or noninvasive treatments for ganglion cysts. Perhaps if we better understood what causes them, we might develop an effective treatment. The only treatment for ganglion cysts is surgery to remove the cyst.