If you experience numbness or tingling in your fingers and arms, there are plenty of possible culprits. Your doctor may jump to diabetes, 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. This is a TMJ symptom you should not ignore because it shows how much of your body is affected by your jaw imbalance.
Common Causes of Tingling Fingers
TMJ is not the first thing most doctors think of when you report tingling in your fingers. Instead, your doctor will likely want to eliminate other possible causes first, such as:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Multiple sclerosis
- Reynaud’s disease
- Vascular disease
- Alcohol abuse
Below are brief descriptions of some of these causes of tingling and numbness.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is common in people who overwork their fingers, especially if they experience repeated vibrations. In this condition, the nerves get irritated as they pass through the small opening that leads from your arm to your hand, called the carpal tunnel. The irritation causes them to swell. In the small space, swelling puts pressure on the nerves, leading to tingling and numbness. Typically, carpal tunnel syndrome affects your thumb through your ring finger, not your pinky finger. TMJ-related numbness often affects your pinky and ring finger.
Diabetes can lead to tingling and numbness because it causes nerve damage, called neuropathy. Suspect this cause if you have been diagnosed with diabetes or have one or more risk factors for diabetes. In addition, diabetic neuropathy is likely to affect your feet before your hands, although not always.
Multiple sclerosis can be an autoimmune disorder in which your body attacks your nerves, leading to scarring and dysfunction. Although tingling and numbness are among the first symptoms, you might also experience vision symptoms because the optic nerve is likely one of the first affected.
Reynaud’s disease (also called Reynaud’s phenomenon) occurs when blood vessels in your hand constrict when they get cold or if you’re stressed. This leads to tingling and numbness that passes after the stimulus passes (for example, when your hand warms).
Vascular diseases can restrict blood flow to your extremities, causing a sensation of tingling and numbness.
Heavy alcohol use can also lead to nerve damage that results in tingling and numbness in your extremities. You might also experience pain in your limbs, have muscle weakness, or get spasms.
The most common type of stroke, ischemic stroke, occurs when arterial plaque breaks off in your arteries, traveling to the brain. There it blocks the flow of blood to your brain, which may require rapid treatment to avoid permanent brain damage. Vision problems and cognitive difficulties are also good ways to distinguish stroke from other paresthesia causes. However, if you have any suspicion it might be a stroke, seek professional care because the possible consequences are dire.
How Are Your Fingers Connected To Your Jaw?
It may seem improbable that jaw problems lead to tingling fingers — after all, what does your jaw have to do with your fingers? TMJ can disrupt our complex nerve system to cause far-reaching symptoms. Our shoulders, back, and fingers can be affected by an imbalance in the jaw.
Due to its vertical build, the human body is very dependent on proper balance. When one part of the body is out of balance, the rest has to work to make up for it. TMJ is caused by an imbalance in the jaw systems, creating tension between the bones and muscles in the jaw and head. This tension has to be compensated for, leading 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. Tilting vertebrae can put pressure on your nerves, limiting sensation, which leads to tingling and numbness. The nerves 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 quickly 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 tried many treatment types but found them to be unsuccessful. Without identifying the source of the paresthesia, treatments will either be ineffective or will only work for short periods.
The good news is that treating the underlying TMJ can also reduce or even eliminate the numbness and tingling in your fingers resulting 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 therapies 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.