Everyone has TMJ, but not everyone has TMJ disorder. TMJ stands for temporomandibular joints—you have one located on each side of your face and they work as a sliding hinge whenever you open or close your mouth. If these joints cause pain and tension in the jaw, you may have TMJ disorder, but occasionally other conditions can cause similar symptoms. Here’s how to know if you have TMJ or something else.
Understanding the Symptoms of TMJ Disorder
TMJ disorder goes beyond pain in the jaw; the muscle tension and inflammation caused by TMJ disorder lead to a wide range of symptoms. If your TMJ pain is accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms, it’s likely that you have TMJ disorder:
- Dizziness and balance problems
- Pain in the upper back and neck
- Tingling or numbness in the fingers
- Clicking or popping sounds when chewing or opening your mouth
- Dental issues, including pain, abnormal wear, chips, or cracks
- Facial pain
- Tinnitus (ringing ears), earaches, or a feeling of fullness in the ears
If the only symptom you’re experiencing is pain, you may still have TMJ disorder, but it’s also possible that you’re dealing with another issue.
Conditions That May Be Mistaken for TMJ Disorder
Because of the location of the temporomandibular joints, there are a number of conditions that can be mistaken for TMJ disorder. These include:
Just as you have two temporomandibular joints on each side of the face, you also have two trigeminal nerves that control your jaw. It’s easy to see why dysfunction in these nerves is often mistaken for TMJ disorder. When the trigeminal nerves are irritated, it causes sharp pain in the face, teeth, and around the ear, along with numbness or tingling—but only on one side of the face. Unlike TMJ pain, trigeminal neuralgia pain is characterized by a feeling of electric shock.
Cluster, Migraine, or Tension Headaches
Although headaches are often experienced in the forehead, they can also originate at the sides of the face and temples, with pain radiating outwards. Chronic cluster, migraine, or tension headaches may be mistaken for TMJ disorder, especially since TMJ disorder itself can cause such headaches.
Chronic sinus pain and sinus infections can also produce pain around the temples that can feel like TMJ disorder. An infection is typically accompanied by a fever and discharge; chronic sinus issues may be caused by allergies or structural problems within the sinuses.
Other Causes of TMJ Pain
Facial and jaw pain can also be caused by an abscessed tooth, herpes zoster (shingles), or facial trauma.
Diagnosing TMJ Disorder
The best way to determine whether your TMJ pain is caused by TMJ disorder or another condition is to visit a TMJ specialist for a diagnosis. At TMJ Plus Wellness Center, we’re experts in TMJ pain, which means we have the in-depth knowledge to identify its root cause. Dr. Coats will conduct a physical examination and ask you about your symptoms; if she determines that your pain is caused by TMJ disorder, she will work with you to put together a treatment plan that addresses your unique needs.