Temporomandibular joint disease, or TMJ, is a complex condition that often worsens over time. Typically caused by the misalignment of the teeth, TMJ can erode the joint capsule between the skull and the jawbone. It is tricky to diagnose, and some people suffer for years. Once it is properly recognized, though, TMJ responds well to treatment. Here are 8 symptoms you should never ignore.
1. Clicking or Popping
Not everyone experiences TMJ in the same way, but a clicking or popping sound in the jaw is an extremely common symptom. If this is your only symptom, you might not need treatment, but it is important to make your dentist aware right away.
2. Pain with Jaw Movement
When the teeth are not properly aligned, the jaw muscles try to compensate. Pain in the jaw or ear while chewing is common. Some people also experience pain when yawning or speaking.
3. Other Pain
TMJ can cause referred pain in the form of headaches, neck pain, shoulder aches, and even toothaches. The pain may worsen when moving the jaw, but it can sometimes be felt even at rest.
4. Locking Jaw
A lockup in the jaw can be a sign of TMJ. You might have difficulty opening your mouth wide or closing it again. When you do get it to move, your jaw will likely pop into place with a loud click.
5. Tired Facial Muscles
The muscles of your face may work hard to compensate for TMJ. If your face feels tired or saggy on one side, let your dentist know. Some people have persistent discomfort, while others experience it only after using the jaw.
6. Trouble Chewing
Since the jaw is out of alignment, many people with TMJ have trouble chewing. Your muscles will try to compensate, but this may be impossible if the misalignment is severe. You might feel like your teeth aren’t closing properly, and you might have extreme difficulty with foods that are crunchy or chewy. Check your bite in the mirror to ensure that your top and bottom teeth meet evenly without any straining or stretching.
7. Facial Swelling
It is relatively uncommon, but some people with TMJ have swelling on one side of the face, likely due to damage and inflammation in the joint capsule. The swelling may be mild or severe, and it might appear only after using the jaw or persist even at rest.
8. Nonspecific Symptoms
TMJ is challenging to diagnose because it can cause many different nonspecific symptoms. These may include, but are not limited to, dizziness, hearing difficulties, and ringing in the ears. Log any unusual symptoms you experience to discuss with your dentist at your next appointment.