Because many different symptoms of TMJ exist, discovering a proper diagnosis is difficult. However, there are a few classic symptoms which involve the TM joints, ears, head, face and teeth.
The most common symptom of TMJ is jaw joint clicking (popping, snapping). This clicking sound may be so loud that it can be heard by others while you chew. There may or may not be pain in the joint itself with the sound of a click or pop. But one thing is for sure: if there is a displaced disc, as is usually the case when a click occurs, then the muscles that move the jaw while chewing are more tense than normal. This tenseness can and does cause muscle, facial, head and neck pain.
Locking of the TMJ may be noticed simply by catching of the lower jaw as it opens. Sometimes, the person with a locked joint must move the jaw to one side or another in order to open wide. Or, a person might have to open until he hears and feels a loud pop, at which point the jaw actually unlocks.
CHANGE IN BITE--
A dislocated TMJ may also be noticed by a change in the dental occlusion, or bite. If the TMJ disc goes out of place, the bones and disc do not fit together properly and therefore, the bite of the teeth changes.
Due to the close anatomical relationship of the TMJs to the ears, an injury to the TMJ often causes various ear symptoms. Some of the symptoms may be ear pain, fullness or stuffiness, and even a loss of hearing. That's why so many TMJ sufferers first see their family doctor and an ear specialist before even considering seeing a dentist for a possible TMJ problem.
Headache is one of the most common symptoms of a TMJ problem. Usually the TMJ headache is located in the temples, back of the head, and even the shoulders. Clenching and grinding of the teeth, both of which may be TMJ symptoms, produce muscle pain which can cause headache pain. Also, a displaced disc in the TMJ may cause pain in the joint which is often referred into the temples, forehead or neck. These headaches are frequently so severe that they are confused and treated (with little success) for migraine headaches or abnormalities in the brain.
The teeth may become sensitive because of jaw activities such as clenching of the teeth or grinding of the teeth when the disc of the TMJ is displaced. Patients often see their dentist with the complaint of pain in the teeth and usually the doctor can find no cause. Frequently (and very unfortunately), unnecessary root canals and even tooth extractions are performed in an attempt to help a suffering person. What's worse, after these invasive and non-reversible procedures, patients still have their pain, only now it has increased!
Many other symptoms may be associated with TMJ. Often, pain will be felt in the shoulders and back due to muscle contraction, a condition called myofascial pain dysfunction syndrome. Dizziness, disorientation and even confusion are also seen in some people who suffer with TMJ.
Depression is common with TMJ. This may be due to the fact that no one really believes there is a problem causing such pain and suffering. Also, plenty of scientific evidence shows that chronic pain patients (which nearly all TMJ patient can claim) have changes in chemicals in the brain (termed neurotransmitters) as result of the pain. These chemicals can and do produce depression. Along with depression comes an inability to get a good night's sleep. This may be due to TMJ pain itself or, changes in the brain's neurotransmitter chemicals which produce stimulation even though the TMJ sufferer is asleep. Sufferers usually wake feeling like they never slept or at least, did not sleep well. This lack of sleep not only makes their pain seem worse, but also adds fuel to the fire of depression.
TMJ patient may also suffer with photophobia, or light sensitivity. A dislocated TMJ may produce pain in and behind the eye which can cause sensitivity to light. Blurred vision and eye muscle twitching are also common in TMJ patients. A final common symptom is ringing (termed tinnitus) in the ears. This sound may be caused by many different problems (such as, working around loud noises or taking too much aspirin or ibuprofen).
QUESTIONS TO SEE IF YOU MIGHT HAVE A TMJ PROBLEM
Dr. Steven J. Wilk
3540 S. Poplar St., Suite #301
Denver CO 80237