Temporomandibular joint disorder, usually abbreviated as TMJ, is a common inflammation associated with the muscles and tendons of the head and neck area. It usually presents itself as the result of continuous jaw clenching. It is often misdiagnosed because many of its symptoms mimic other illnesses. These include, but are not limited to, congestion, ear pain, ringing in the ears, and severe headaches or migraines.
Because of this confusion, many TMJ sufferers are led on a wild goose chase in their search for relief and resolution. For example, a painful neck might be treated by a chiropractor or migraines by a neurologist — who usually are not familiar with the full range of TMJ treatment options. Palliative procedures do not get at the root cause of the problem, and so the suffering continues unabated — with physicians or dentists suggesting to the patient that it is all in his or her head.
Naturally, this can be very discouraging and even frightening to the patient — leading to deeper anxiety and perhaps even unneeded surgical intervention in the vain hope of relief.
It takes a TMJ specialist to put together the pieces of the puzzle that lead to a proper diagnosis, and then the proper procedures to bring cessation to the symptoms. Patients are often unaware of the mechanics of jaw clenching, which involves some of the same muscles that help the inner ear function. When those muscles are constantly stressed the results mimic an inner ear infection — with imbalance and dizziness along with migraines and tinnitus. Not to mention hearing loss and a feeling of fullness in the head.
Proper treatment of TMJ depends on a proper diagnosis. The symptoms that the TMJ dental specialist will be looking for includes the following:
This might be a blurring of vision or a sudden lack of focus on objects either nearby or in the distance.
Persistent muscle pain in the shoulders, neck, and head
Besides being the result of an overactive jaw muscle, this TMJ symptom can be brought on from a car accident where the victim suffers whiplash or even from a simple fall. The muscles in the head, neck, and shoulder regions are interconnected and can start a vicious cycle where the pain ricochets from the neck to the head and then down to the shoulders, or vice versa.
When jaw clenching becomes an automatic reaction, even when asleep, then sleep disturbances are the norm. TMJ is also associated with bruxism — the unconscious grinding of the teeth while asleep.
Jaw clicking and/or popping
This is most noticeable when eating. The popping or clicking may even be audible to others when you’re eating together.
The constant tension in the jaw muscles from clenching can eventually radiate into the neural network of the brain, which manifests itself as a series of debilitating migraine headaches.
The jaw muscles are also connected to the sinus cavities in the head, and when they become inflamed from TMJ the sinuses may react by swelling and becoming congested, making breathing difficult and leading to a constant dull ache in the area of the septum.
If you find yourself with this group of symptoms, make sure you see a TMJ specialist first. He or she can give you peace of mind with a firm diagnosis.
Photo by dvanzuijlekom