Some of the most misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and undertreated conditions, temporomandibular joint disorders (called TMJ or TMD) can cause a wide range of symptoms, including headaches. Although TMJ is a jaw disorder, it can affect the entire body, and because there are many different forms of it, it’s often hard for people to get a good diagnosis and proper treatment. But a TMJ dentist can perform scientific measurements that give a definitive diagnosis, which is often an improvement over an unspecified headache disorder.

Woman with TMJ pain

If you suspect you have TMJ or are having difficulty getting good treatment for headaches, please call (248) 480-0085 today for an appointment with headache dentist Dr. Jeffrey S. Haddad at the Michigan Center for TMJ & Sleep Wellness.

TMJ Symptoms

Most people’s awareness of TMJ begins with their symptoms. These symptoms can be varied and widespread, so it’s hard to figure out that they’re actually all related to the same cause. Some common symptoms include:

  • Headaches, including tension headaches and migraines
  • Jaw pain
  • Face pain
  • Jaw popping and clicking
  • Irregular jaw motion, including locking
  • Tooth damage and wear
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Vertigo or dizziness
  • Ear pain or fullness
  • Neck pain
  • Back pain
  • Tingling or numbness in hands and fingers

The wide range of symptoms comes in large part because the jaw exists at the body’s major crossroads of nerves, muscles, blood vessels, and your airway. The large jaw muscles and the partnership between jaw muscles and other muscles in the head, neck, and back account for many of the symptoms. Other symptoms are related to pressure on nerves, either related to the jaw or to the ear. Still other symptoms come from the fact that jaw imbalance can lead to spinal imbalance, which can put pressure on nerves elsewhere in the body.

Because people with TMJ often have sleep apnea as well, they may experience additional symptoms such as morning headaches, daytime sleepiness, depression, and more. Sleep apnea requires different treatment, but the two can be treated concurrently.

What Is TMJ?

Describing the exact nature of TMJ is difficult. Partly it’s because our modern understanding is that it’s not one condition, but many conditions that are more or less related to one another but often have the same symptoms. However, we don’t understand the differences between these conditions well enough to diagnose and treat them independently of one another.

Probably the most common form of TMJ is a jaw imbalance. In this condition, the muscles, bones, teeth, and joints aren’t in proper relation to one another, and they’re working against each other. The muscles will strive to find a comfortable position for themselves, and, in the process they can put stress on the other jaw structures, such as the jaw joints, the teeth, and the bones. In the process, it can also put pressure on nerves and other structures in the area, such as the ear or the airway.

Other forms of it may be caused by sensitization of the nerves, leading to pain sensations from stimuli that should not be painful. Sensitization may be peripheral (at the source of the pain) or central (in the brain). Sensitization may be secondary to jaw imbalance, but once it occurs, fixing jaw imbalance doesn’t always resolve symptoms.

TMJ often overlaps with other conditions. In addition to sleep apnea, people with TMJ often experience fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and other chronic pain conditions.

Diagnosing TMJ

One good thing about TMJ is that jaw imbalance can be definitely diagnosed. This allows us to prescribe treatments that we know will be effective at resolving the imbalance.

TMJ diagnosis begins with a medical history. We will look for warning signs in your medical history that include overlapping medical conditions and symptoms.

A physical exam will include an exam of the jaw muscles, the jaw joint, and the teeth. We will feel your jaw muscles to identify tension and irregularities in motion.

After the physical exam, we will measure various aspects of your jaw status and motion. This includes obtaining digital measurements of your jaw muscle tension, the motion of your jaw, the sound of your jaw, and the forces of your bite. We will do this before and after you have a TENS muscle massage so we know how much of your jaw problem is related to tense muscles and how much is attributable to other causes.

We will often recommend imaging of your jaw to give us a better image of what’s going on. Imaging may be obtained with a CT scan, MRI, ultrasound, or other equipment depending on what we are looking for.

Do You Have TMJ?

If you suspect TMJ might be related to your headaches or other symptoms, we can help you get a definitive diagnosis and treatment. Please call (248) 480-0085 today for an appointment with headache dentist Dr. Haddad at the Michigan Center for TMJ & Sleep Wellness.