TMJ disorder, or TMD, is when the temporomandibular joint (jaw joint), teeth, and facial muscles are out of alignment. When alignment is off, this causes strain on the muscles and pressure on the nerves near your jaw. TMJ causes many painful symptoms like facial pain, headaches, jaw clicking or popping, teeth grinding (bruxism), limited jaw mobility, and even locked jaw. However, there are some little-known symptoms that TMJ disorder can present that you may not know. Knowing these symptoms can help you get the treatment you need to go back to living your life free of TMJ pain.
Numbness in the Fingers and Arms
If you have TMJ or suspect that you do, you probably are familiar with the jaw and head symptoms, like pain. But less known is the numbness and tingling that TMJ can cause in your arms and fingers. You may get slight tingling that goes away quickly, but you shouldn’t dismiss it without further investigation.
Your temporomandibular joints live on each side of your head in front of your ears. They connect your mandible (lower jaw) to your skull. One of our body’s largest nerves, the trigeminal nerve, runs through your temporomandibular joint. When the jaw joint is out of balance, it can pinch and cause pressure on the trigeminal nerve. This pressure can send numbness and tingling to other parts of your body, such as your arms and fingers. Slight numbness might not bother you, but it’s possible to experience nerve damage over time.
Consider the tingling and numbness in your arms and fingers in conjunction with other symptoms such as headaches, jaw pain, and worn teeth. Tingling alone may not entice you to see your TMJ dentist, but the concoction of these symptoms is a different story.
Neck and Shoulder Pain
Jaw pain makes sense. Neck and shoulder pain from TMJ disorder isn’t as straightforward. We usually think of our body parts as different. When we have back pain, it must be a muscle pulled in our back; when we have knee pain, we must have injured our knee. However, the body works as an interconnected whole. All our bones, muscles, tendons, and nerves are connected. Thinking about your body in this way may make it easier to understand why TMJ can cause neck and shoulder pain. The muscles surrounding your jaw joints connect to the muscles in your neck, which play a significant role in keeping the alignment of your spine. Your neck muscles also connect to the muscles in your shoulders. The more severe the TMJ, the further away you’ll feel the pain.
When your jaw is out of alignment, the muscles you use to chew have to work overtime—fighting harder to close and open your mouth. When they become tired, pain can stretch down your neck and shoulders.
Think about your other symptoms when determining if your neck and shoulder pain are related to TMJ. Do you have jaw and head pain, too?
Ear ringing (medically called tinnitus) is another symptom of TMJ that you may not have heard of, and it’s one that maybe doesn’t make a lot of sense without taking into consideration the anatomy of your head. Your jaw joint (temporomandibular joint) lives just in front of your ear. Your jaw muscles are connected to the muscles in your ear through the trigeminal nerve. Muscle tension in your jaw due to misalignment puts strain on your tensor tympani and tensor levi palatine—your ear muscles—through the trigeminal nerve. The result of this tension is ear ringing. The “ringing” may not sound like actual ringing. It could sound like clicking, buzzing, or whooshing, too.
People may experience ear ringing from time to time for things unrelated to TMJ like an ear infection, age, or loud music. Like the other little-known TMJ symptoms, it’s important to consider them alongside others.
If you have experienced vertigo, you know how disabling it can be. It is often described as dizziness or lightheadedness. However, vertigo can present as much more than that. Many people feel that the room is spinning; they lose their balance easily and feel nauseous and sick. As you can probably guess, vertigo can keep you from doing any of the things you love or cause injury when you are doing them. TMJ and vertigo are fast friends. They often coincide because of the impact that TMJ has on your ears.
Your inner ear is a prominent structure in maintaining balance. Within your vestibular system (inner ear) are sensors that monitor your body’s position and movement in space and its response to gravity. These sensors send messages to your brain about your surroundings enabling your brain to send messages to your eyes and limbs to keep you balanced. When this process is interrupted by TMJ, it’s easier for you to lose your balance, feel dizzy and nauseous. Though the connection between vertigo and TMJ isn’t fully understood, a common belief is that an inflamed jaw joint can cause pressure on its next-door neighbor, the vestibular system.
Having vertigo alone doesn’t mean you have TMJ, but it is a common symptom. So common that 50% of TMJ sufferers also suffer from vertigo. The ties between TMJ and your inner ear are so strong that it’s not uncommon for people to experience hearing loss with severe TMJ.
A feeling of fullness or congestion in your ears is another less-known symptom of TMJ. As we know, the jaw joints that are off-kilter with TMJ sit right next to our ears. Our eustachian tubes allow fluid to drain from our ears and throat and can become blocked because of TMJ disorder.
If you’re feeling like your ears are congested, first, explore the option of an ear infection and see if any medications you’re taking could cause it. If not, TMJ is a likely cause.
TMJ Disorder in Blue Bell, PA
If you’re experiencing a combination of TMJ related symptoms that are lasting over a week and not dissipating with home care, it’s worth it to head to your TMJ dentist in Blue Bell for an examination. Dr. Ken Siegel is an experienced TMJ dentist who can diagnose your TMJ. If he finds that you do have TMJ, he can lay out your treatment options in an easy-to-understand manner, answering all your questions so that you can make an informed decision. You don’t have to live with TMJ anymore. A life free of pain and suffering is just around the corner. Call your friends at Dental Excellence of Blue Bell at (610) 272-0828 or schedule an appointment online today.