Could You Have TMJ and Not Know It?

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Could You Have TMJ and Not Know It?

Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) is a relatively common medical problem affecting as much as 12% of the population. As a chronic medical problem, TMJ is unusual because it tends to affect younger people more often than older people — the population that’s usually bothered by chronic conditions. Something else that’s unusual: TMJ doesn’t always cause noticeable symptoms. 

Of course, no symptoms doesn’t mean no damage — TMJ can still be damaging your jaws even if you don’t feel any pain or experience other typical TMJ symptoms. But without symptoms, how do you know if you even have TMJ? 

Fortunately, Timothy Tomase, DDS, and the team at Tomase Dental Care in Toledo, Ohio, are able to diagnose and treat TMJ in patients through a comprehensive dental exam that evaluates jaw function and bite mechanics. Here’s what Dr. Tomase wants you to know about TMJ and the importance of having it treated — even when it doesn’t cause symptoms.

The basics of TMJ

TMJ is an inflammatory condition that affects your temporomandibular joints — the joints that form where your lower jaw “hinges” into your upper jaw. Inside the joint is a small disc that cushions the joint and helps it move freely. 

Typically, TMJ irritation begins when your jaw joint and the muscles surrounding it are strained. Excessive strain or uneven strain on your jaw muscles can pull your jaw joints out of alignment, causing damage inside the one or both joints. 

Inflammation inside the joint can damage the disc or alter the way your jaw opens and closes. Over time, these changes can cause damage to the bone, as well.

While severe or advanced TMJ may require surgery to correct, especially if it results in jaw damage, most cases of TMJ can be treated conservatively. The key is to start treatment early. Of course, early treatment depends a lot on recognizing TMJ symptoms. 

What to know about TMJ symptoms

The most common symptoms of TMJ are jaw pain, jaw “sticking” sensations, and jaw clicking or “popping” when you chew or yawn. Many people have jaw or facial pain, ear pain, or headaches as a result of the uneven strain on their jaw joints. 

Certainly, people who have these classic symptoms typically know it’s time to seek help. But TMJ is “sneaky” — it doesn’t always cause symptoms, or it may cause other symptoms that you might not recognize as TMJ.

So how can you tell if you need to be evaluated for TMJ? Mainly by knowing if you have any of these risk factors for TMJ:

  • Teeth grinding or clenching 
  • Jaw trauma
  • Tooth-related problems, including missing teeth and crooked teeth
  • Anxiety
  • Arthritis or other inflammatory problems
  • Oral contraceptive or estrogen use

If you have any of these risk factors, it’s a good idea to discuss them with Dr. Tomase during your next exam so he can decide if you need further evaluation for TMJ.

Prompt treatment is key

Whether or not TMJ causes symptoms, delaying treatment can cause permanent damage to your jaw joints. If you have TMJ risk factors — or symptoms — call 419-670-6537 or book an appointment online at Tomase Dental Care today.