Do you have pain in your jaw, neck, or upper back? Do you get recurring headaches? Do you have ringing in your ears, tingling in your fingertips, or other hard-to identify symptoms? You have probably visited many doctors or other healthcare providers to get relief from your symptoms, but have not had success. If so, the problem may be TMJ, temporomandibular joint disorder, a condition localized in your jaw, but capable of causing symptoms throughout your body.
What Is TMJ?
TMJ is a condition where the different elements in your jaw are out of balance. The jaw joint may be displaced. The muscles of the jaw may be pulling forcefully against the bones and teeth. The nerves in and around your jaw may be irritated and inflamed. The result is a host of symptoms that may seem to indicate any number of conditions.
TMJ is often misdiagnosed because it results in symptoms throughout your body, including:
- Jaw pain
- Headaches, including migraines
- Chipped or worn teeth
- Clicking or popping noise in the jaw
- Neck pain
- Back pain
- Tingling or numbness in the fingers
- Vertigo or dizziness
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
TMJ is able to cause all these symptoms because of the complexity of the temporomandibular joint and its surroundings.
The temporomandibular joints connect your jaw to your skull on either side of your head. The joint is designed to be able to move in six different ways, and the muscles that move your jaw work in concert with muscles from your head and neck. In addition, some of your body’s most important nerves, such as the trigeminal nerve, run right by the temporomandibular joint.
In TMJ, imbalance in the joint transfers stress to partner muscles, which can result in headaches and neck pain. It also throws off the alignment of your cervical vertebrae, and your body attempts to compensate by realigning vertebrae lower down, which can result in pinching and irritation of nerves that run to your fingers.
The imbalance in your jaw joint can also cause your jaw to irritate nearby nerves or put pressure on the delicate tissues of your ear, which can trigger migraine headaches, ringing in the ears, and vertigo.
The right TMJ treatment for you depends on the extent of your jaw’s imbalance and how far your condition has progressed.
For minor TMJ, all that may be necessary is a relaxing electronic muscle massage, called TENS, which releases tension in your jaw muscles, alleviates many symptoms, and may allow your jaw to find a more ideal position on its own.
For more advanced TMJ, an oral advancement splint may be necessary. Similar to a sports mouthguard, wearing this appliance at night will hold your jaw in a more comfortable position, reducing muscle stress and nerve irritation.
Sometimes, dental restorations may be recommended if tooth damage contributes to the poor position of your jaw.
In rare cases, surgery on the temporomandibular joint may be recommended.