What Are the Symptoms of TMJ Disorder?

Bruxism Guide

What Are the Symptoms of TMJ Disorder?

TMJ disorder is also known as TMD, or temporomandibular joint disorder.  Characterized by various pains and abnormalities relating to the area around the jaw, this is not a life-threatening condition but still a potentially troubling one.

It gets its name from the joint that connects the human jaw to the skull.  As it connects specifically to the parts of the skull that we call the temples, the joint is called the temporomandibular joint (“mandible” being another name for “jaw”).

While the name seems to suggest that the joint is always the area of dysfunction, it is not so.  Sometimes, it is actually the muscles around the joint that seem to be the problem.  That said, there is still some uncertainty regarding the precise origins of this disorder.  In fact, most agree that there can be more than one cause for the problem, with possibilities ranging from bruxism (teeth clenching/grinding) to physical injury.

Manifestations of TMD

Temporomandibular joint disorder has myriad symptoms and manifestations.  You may not experience all of them, but it is common to have 2 or more of them at much the same time.

The inescapable symptom of the disorder, though, seems to be discomfort.  Whether this is an actual pain or just a dull ache, TMD never seems to go without it, which shows why this condition can have such a grave impact on the quality of your life.

It is not likely to kill you, but it can certainly make you very uncomfortable and even very unhappy.  Interestingly enough, it may also be an outcome of a prior discomfort or unhappiness, as some doctors are saying that stress is often linked to TMD.

TMD can also have any or even all of the following symptoms:

  1. Headaches – There can be varying levels of pain with TMD headaches. Some sufferers report full-on migraines, for instance, while others merely report normal headaches. Some even experience it mainly as a dull pain instead of a sharp one.
  2. Earaches – These also tend to manifest along with experiences of tinnitus. This is basically when your ear or ears seem to buzz or ring for no reason whatsoever. Some people also report a feeling of their ears being “blocked”, although they cannot find anything in it that should cause that sensation.

This is most likely caused by an abnormal orientation or movement of the temporomandibular joint.  This joint is right in front of the earhole after all, and any displacement of its parts can lead to it pressing against the sensitive inner ear when the jaw moves.

  1. Facial tenderness – This feeling usually appears in the parts of the face nearest the jaw, such as the cheeks, and often presents when the person is talking or engaging in some other activity that requires them to move their jaw a lot. The tenderness is not limited to the face, which explains the next symptom.
  2. Neck pain – The soreness of TMD seems to affect a lot of neighboring body parts. We have already mentioned earaches, which seem the result of TMD issues affecting the ear area. Neck pain then seems to be the result of TMD issues spreading down from the jaw too and into the neck.

This is natural given that a lot of TMD cases are due to displacements and problems with the joint and its surrounding musculature.  When something is wrong with the temporomandibular joint, a lot of mouth movements become more difficult to carry out.  The muscles are strained as they try to deal with it and nearby muscles like the ones in the neck are forced to tense or stretch outside of normal limits to help.  This causes the neck pain a lot of TMD sufferers experience.

  1. Discomfort when attempting to gape – An inability to gape or open one’s mouth wide comfortably is often a feature of temporomandibular joint disorder. People with TMD often report pain and soreness when attempting this facial movement.

In the most severe cases of TMD though, people actually find it painful to simply open the mouth.  This means that some sufferers of TMD do not even need to attempt a true gape to try and test their threshold of discomfort.  This is usually the case with people who are suffering TMD caused by a muscular or joint injury from an accident.

  1. Odd noises when moving the jaw – These odd noises come from within the jaw and typically present themselves when the person moves their mouth. They can sound like clicks, grinding, or even pops. Most specialists in temporomandibular disorder treatment say that the sounds originate from the displaced components of the joint, which may be grinding or slipping over each other.  It bears noting that some people experience pain with this but others do not.
  2. Facial swelling – The swelling usually appears around the jaw and is typically found with people whose TMD originates from physical injuries to the joint.

Diagnosing Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

It is possible to perform a self-diagnosis for temporomandibular joint disorder but the only way to be truly certain that you have it is to see your GP about it.  In all likelihood, your GP will not only perform their own examination but will also refer you to a specialist in these matters.  They may also refer you to a dentist, as a lot of TMD sufferers tend to get it from bruxism or teeth grinding.

Once you have been diagnosed properly, you may begin to identify your possible courses of action.  There are a lot of possible treatments for this particular disorder though, depending on its cause.  Therefore, keeping your own log of observations and self-recording symptoms can be useful.  That data can help your physician figure out how best to treat your problem.

Some forms of this disorder may be related to something as benign as teeth grinding, as mentioned before, while others can be natural outcomes of problems like arthritis.  Knowing the cause is the only way a doctor can determine the best possibility for a cure.

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