Also known as the “Great Impostors,” TMJ disorders have earned that name because many of the symptoms can mimic other conditions. The confusion stemming from that overlap can cause people to travel from medical doctor to medical specialist in search of a cure rather than a dentist.
Headaches are one of the most common complaints of TMJ sufferers, and can be so severe that they’re mistaken for migraines. TMJ headaches are most often felt in the temple area, behind the eyes and at the back of the head, with pain radiating to the neck and shoulders. Migraine headaches, however, are mainly experienced on one side with the patient suffering from visual disturbances and being extremely sensitive to light.
Because the treatments for the two types of headaches are so different, it’s important to be evaluated by a professional. Migraines are typically treated by a neurologist, and TMJ-related headaches are usually referred to a dentist or dental specialist. To find a dentist experienced in the treatment of patients with TM joint disorders, consult the website of the American Academy of Craniofacial Pain.
Clicking or Popping Sounds
When the jaw is healthy, a protective cartilage disc acts like a protective cushion between the bones of the upper and lower jaw. When it is damaged, however, it can start to make noises. Clicking or popping sounds are caused when the jaw is opened and the condyle (top of the lower jaw) moves forward, slipping on and off the dislocated disc. The grating sound, called crepitus, is the sound of bone rubbing on bone and occurs during later, more severe stages of TMD.
When the lower jaw (condyle) is too far back and the protective cartilage disc is too far forward, it can cause some of the muscles used for chewing to go into spasm. This, in turn, can cause symptoms in the ears, including pain, ringing or buzzing, fullness, or a stuffy feeling without any ear infection. Other symptoms include dizziness, hearing loss or loss of balance. If your medical doctor or ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist can find no apparent reason for your ear problems, you may want to check with a dentist who’s trained in diagnosing and treating TMD.
If TMJ disorders are left untreated, they can actually cause your jaw to become locked in either the open or closed position. It’s an extremely painful condition that can be avoided if caught early, so be sure to see your dentist right away if you’re experiencing any of the first symptoms of TMD, such as clicking or popping noises or pain in the jaw area.
In patients who suffer from TMD, the jaw muscles can contract or spasm throughout the night, causing pain and frequent waking. Trigger points caused by dislocated joints, clenching or grinding can have a similar effect. When this happens repeatedly, the brain cannot reach the deep stages of sleep and patients often feel tired and listless during the day.
Depression is another common sign in patients who have dealt with the symptoms of TMD for an extended period of time and suffer from chronic pain. A lack of diagnosis — especially if a medical doctor is looking for a cause other than TMD — can lead the patient to feel like there’s no end in sight.
If you have any of the above symptoms, you could possibly have a problem with your jaw (TMJ)