Temporomandibular joint disorder, known more commonly as TMJ, is notoriously difficult to diagnose. Despite the condition becoming more and more prevalent, some estimates suggesting that TMJ effects over ten million Americans, symptoms often vary in both severity and the ways in which they manifest, making it much more difficult to diagnose. That’s because medically, temporomandibular joint disorder is considered an umbrella term describing a symptom complex instead of a single condition, and it affects the temporomandibular joints, skull, and jaw as well as related muscles, nerves, and other tissues. The most important feature of the complex being pain and the restriction of movement. However, these can manifest in many different ways.
Better Understanding TMJ
Temporomandibular joint disorder occurs when the complex joints that allow movement of the jaw become damaged over time. Much like our shoulder joints, hips, or back, the wear and tear of life can eventually damage the tendons and muscles around the area. The temporomandibular joint in particular needs both flexibility and strength to cope with the continuous pressure exerted through the jaw, which is no minor feat. An average adult jaw can exert around 200 pounds per square inch! When this joint becomes weakened, either through trauma, arthritis, or inflammation, it can cause a wealth of different symptoms.
Self-screening For TMJ
While some TMJ symptoms are easier to identify than others, the two main signs are jaw pain and irregular or restricted jaw motion. Do you feel pain in or around your jaw when eating, talking, or chewing gum? Do you find it difficult to open your jaw, especially at times like in the morning? These are generally considered major red flags. One quick self-evaluation you can perform at home is to check for clicking or popping when you open your jaw. To do this, simply put a finger to both sides of your jaw, then open and close your mouth a few times. Do you feel (or hear) a click on either side?
Other TMJ Symptoms
The temporomandibular joint is located right beneath the ear, which is a complex system that can be easily disturbed. Another collection of TMJ symptoms are things like tinnitus, ringing in the ears, and vertigo or dizziness. That’s because these systems in the ear govern your general balance. If you’ve ever had a particularly serious ear-infection, then you understand how disruptions in the ear canal can affect your balance.
A misaligned jaw can also create tension in muscles of the head, neck, and back, which is why many TMJ sufferers often complain of back and shoulder pain. Sometimes this pain even manifests as tension headaches, migraine headaches, and even numb or tingling fingers.
If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms, your dentist may be able to help.If you have TMJ symptoms and your doctor hasn’t been able to get you the relief you’re looking for, we can help. Please call (212) 557-8668 today for an appointment with TMJ dentist Dr. Karthilde Appolon at Appolon Dental Group in Columbus Circle.