If you have tingling or numbness in your fingers, you may blame all the typing or other repetitive work you do at your job. But did you know that it’s very likely that jaw problems are to blame? Up to a third of TMJ patients experience prickling, tingling, or creeping sensations in their fingers, called paresthesia. If you’ve seen a doctor about this condition but haven’t been able to find the cause, neuromuscular dentistry can help!

To talk to neuromuscular dentist Dr. Adam Hahn about tingling or numbness in your fingers, please call (803) 781-9090 or email Smile Columbia Dentistry in Columbia, SC today for an appointment.

How TMJ Can Cause Tingling or Numbness in Your Fingers

The mechanism that causes tingling and numbness in fingers is similar to the one that leads to face, neck, shoulder, and back pain.

Because of our vertical posture, the human body is built like a tower of blocks that has to be carefully balanced. When your jaw rests higher on one side than the other, what we describe as a “rolled” jaw, your body has to compensate somehow. To maintain balance, your body will compensate by tilting your shoulders in the opposite direction.

An illustration of a person’s skeleton and how vertical posture and how the human body is built like a tower of blocks that it needs to be balanced.

When your shoulder tilts in this way, it puts strains on some of your muscles, such as the scalene muscles in your neck, which often experience spasms as a result. The nerves that control your arms emerge from your neck vertebrae here and pass between the scalene muscles. Spasms in these muscles put pressure on the nerves and cause paresthesia.

Other 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
  • Diabetes
  • Ulnar nerve palsy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Reynaud’s disease
  • Vascular disease
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Stroke
  • No cause

Below are brief descriptions of some of these causes of tingling and numbness, including how to tell them apart from TMJ-related numbness and tingling. 

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 the nerves 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. 

Diabetic Neuropathy

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. 

Ulnar Nerve Palsy

Ulnar nerve palsy, also called ulnar nerve entrapment, occurs when the ulnar nerve is being trapped and crushed. This most often occurs at the elbow and tends to be worse when you have your elbow flexed.

This causes tingling and numbness in your ring and pinky fingers. It can also cause tingling or numbness in the palm opposite the thumb.

Multiple Sclerosis

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

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 when your hand warms

Vascular Diseases

Vascular diseases can restrict blood flow to your extremities, causing a sensation of tingling and numbness. 

If this is the cause of your paresthesia, you are likely to feel tingling in your feet first. 

Vitamin Deficiencies

Our nerves depend on a steady supply of nutrients, and, unfortunately, many of us don’t get all the nutrients we need for healthy nerve function. Some common vitamin deficiencies that can lead to tingling in the hands include vitamin E, B1, B3 (niacin), B6, and B12 are all vital for nerve function.

Vitamin deficiencies that cause nerve damage are common in alcoholics, so some people use a separate category of alcoholic neuropathy.

Alcohol Abuse

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. 

Stroke

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 paresthesia might be a stroke, seek professional care because the possible consequences are dire. 

No Cause

Unfortunately, about 30% of cases of numbness or tingling in the hands can’t be linked to any definitive cause. 

That doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no cause, but it’s possible that the cause just can’t be isolated or can’t be linked to its symptoms. Because doctors don’t understand TMJ, you should consult with a TMJ dentist if your doctor gives you this answer.

Tingling and Numbness in the Jaw and Face

As with tingling and numbness caused in other parts of the body, this is usually related to pressure on a nerve that prevents sensation from being communicated between that part of the body and the brain. In the face and jaw, the responsible nerve is the trigeminal nerve and its branches, which you might remember are closely linked to migraines. In fact, some people develop this tingling and numbness in the early stages of TMJ, when pressure on the nerve is mild. As it grows more intense, the tingling can turn to pain.

Where you feel the tingling depends on what part of the trigeminal nerve is being pressured. The ophthalmic branch carries sensations from the eyeball, nose, eyelids, and foreheads. The maxillary branch takes stimuli from some parts of the nose, as well as your cheeks and upper teeth. The mandibular branch is going to cause tingling in the jaw, as well as the chin and tongue.

Why Other Treatments Don’t Work

If you go to a doctor or chiropractor to get relief for this type of tingling or numbness in your fingers, you may either be told there’s nothing wrong or given a treatment that provides only short-term relief.

A doctor, looking for local causes may evaluate the nerves in your fingers and arms and tell you they’re all fine.

A chiropractor may note misalignment in your spine and perform some adjustments that make you feel better for a while, but studies have shown that chiropractic adjustments may not hold in people with untreated TMJ.

TMJ Treatment in Columbia, SC to Alleviate Tingling or Numbness in the Fingers

During your first visit, Dr. Adam Hahn will listen to your description of your symptoms. We will then evaluate the position of your jaw, measure muscle tension, and listen to the sound of your jaw. We will determine whether your TMJ may be causing your paresthesia. If so, we will restore your jaw’s position.

Depending on the extent and cause of your rolled jaw, we may recommend an oral splint, called an orthotic. These are sometimes worn part time, but are usually worn as much as possible, and can even be made in a version that is affixed to your teeth. Orthotics are different from night guards or grinding guards that are made purely to protect teeth from damage.

For more serious problems, we may recommend using dental restorations or orthodontics to build your teeth back up so they hold your jaw in its proper position.

Don’t keep suffering with numbness or tingling in your fingers, please call (803) 781-9090 or contact Smile Columbia Dentistry in Columbia, SC today for an appointment.