TMJ disorders are problems with the temporomandibular joint, a hinge-like joint that connects the jawbone to the skull and affects how the bones function. TMJ issues often lead to difficulty chewing and talking. As a result, though the disorders are not lethal, they impact a person's quality of life. If left unchecked, symptoms often worsen and cause chronic problems. Various symptoms can point to problems with the temporomandibular joint.
The most distinctive characteristic of a TMJ disorder is pain in the temporomandibular joint. The sensation most often manifests when a person chews, speaks, or yawns. Some individuals complain that jaw pain is most pronounced in the morning, right after waking. Most people describe a dull, aching throb that comes and goes through the day.
In addition to pain, people with TMJ disorders find it difficult to move the jaw. Both the joint and the muscles stiffen, especially after long periods of inactivity, such as during sleep. Ordinary activities, such as eating and speaking, may become difficult due to muscle weakness and stiffness. Some people report an odd sensation or popping sound when the jaw moves out of its normal position. Less commonly, the jaw can become stuck in an open or closed-mouth position.
Many patients with TMJ disorders complain that their jaw makes strange noises. This occurs intermittently and originates in the mandible. Clicking, popping, and grating sounds indicate that the mandibular disc is not in the correct position. In some cases, only the affected person hears the noise, though it can also be an audible "pop." Doctors will often opt not to treat the issue if the sound is not accompanied by pain.
Pain in the jaw may radiate to the rest of the face. It usually occurs on one side and can spread to include the ear and neck. Facial pain most often manifests after a person exerts effort to chew or speak, and intensifies when they overuse the jaw. If the pain increases, it can prevent a person from eating or speaking normally.
If a TMJ disorder causes the muscles over the joint to over-stretch, a person may experience muscle spasms. These sudden, sharp contractions in the muscle can be disconcerting and cause visible twitching. Random muscle spasms make it difficult to focus on individual tasks.
Tinnitus caused an individual to hear noises that no one else hears. People with the condition hear ringing, hissing, roaring, or clicking within the inner ear, and the sounds vary in frequency and volume. Tinnitus is not a frequent problem for those with TMJ disorder but can occur. It often causes irritation and disrupts concentration.
Some individuals with a TMJ disorder experience malocclusion, which occurs when the upper and lower teeth do not meet properly. This sensation not only affects the bite and causes pain or discomfort, but it can also disturb and distract the affected individual, prompting them to repeatedly open and close their mouths in pursuit of proper alignment. This overuse can cause the jaw muscles to swell and exacerbate other symptoms such as headaches.
The area surrounding the temporomandibular joint may swell in an individual with a TMJ disorder. This swelling can affect appearance and is most common when an individual has over-stretched the jaw muscles or joints. In some cases, the swelling spreads beyond the face, into the neck. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories can help this symptom but always speak to a doctor before self-medicating.
In some cases, people with TMJ disorders report eye pain or discomfort. This can manifest as a sharp pain or pressure behind the eyes. Some compare it to the discomfort of a sinus infection or allergies. Eye ailments typically follow other symptoms such as joint or jaw pain and should subside when the pain dissipates.
Jaw pain may spread and cause aching in other parts of the body. Often, people notice tension, aches, or pain in the neck and shoulders. The pain can also radiate up into the scalp, sometimes causing headaches or migraines. Some people with TMJ syndrome also experience earaches and tooth pain. Over-the-counter medication is usually sufficient to alleviate this pain, but this does not address the cause of the issues, which should be diagnosed and treated by a physician.
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