Common TMJ Symptoms
TMJ symptoms can range from annoying sounds and sensations to jaw dysfunction severe enough to warrant an emergency room visit. Here are the most frequently reported warning signs of TMJ and the potential causes for some of these symptoms:
Clicking or Popping
Your jaw may make a noise when you open or close it. Many people describe this as a clicking sound or a popping sensation. This may be quiet enough that only you can hear it. Or, it could be audible to everyone in the room. It could happen every time you move your jaw or only at certain times (such as when you yawn). Each click may be accompanied by a sharp, sudden pain.
This is one of the most common TMJ symptoms. In most cases the popping is caused by swollen connective tissues and muscles in the jaw. Inflammation can cause the jaw joint to open and close slightly crooked. The disc of cartilage that helps absorb stress and ease jaw movement may also have shifted into an abnormal position. These changes cause friction between the various components as they move past each other, making what should be a smooth and soundless motion audible. In extreme cases, the jaw may actually be coming partway out of the socket and then popping back in.
You may experience pain in your jaw itself or in surrounding areas. These TMJ symptoms are often caused by muscle spasms. When the muscles in the jaw joint are overworked, they can begin clenching uncontrollably. This can cause waves of pain when you move your jaw. Or, the muscle spasms can manifest as constant aching or soreness in your jaw.
Pain in Surrounding Areas
Jaw muscle spasms may send pain radiating to other areas around the jaw. Sometimes, having muscle spasms in your jaw can lead you to tense up other muscles. You could end up with pain in your neck or shoulders as a result. Inflammation in your jaw can also cause headaches.
You could feel your jaw joint grinding whenever you chew if you have advanced TMJ. This happens when the disk of cartilage in your jaw socket has been damaged by trauma or through a degenerative disease. It can no longer lubricate and ease movement of the jaw. Instead, it may actually hinder normal jaw movement.
In cases of moderate-to-severe TMJ, you may see that the lower half of your face is shifted slightly to one side. This crookedness becomes more evident when you open your jaw. This symptom can be caused by inflammation in the jaw that prevents the jaw from opening straight down.
Limited Jaw Movement
If you have difficulty opening or closing your jaw all the way, this is usually a sign of swelling in the ligament and/or muscles. It can also be caused by deterioration or shifting of the cartilage in the jaw or by degeneration or fusing of the bone. If your jaw is locked in the open position, this is an indication that it is fully dislocated.
Ear Problems and TMJ
Since your jaw is located close to your ears, TMJ can have some unexpected effects that may initially be diagnosed as ear problems. These include:
- Tinnitus (ringing sound in the ears)
- Balance problems or dizziness
- Hearing loss
Other TMJ Symptoms
Some people experience sinus pain or migraine headaches from TMJ. Others have pain or sensitivity in their teeth during chewing. Sometimes, swelling in the jaw is visibly noticeable.
What to Do about TMJ Symptoms
A high percentage of people will experience occasional jaw noises. If these are only occasional and not painful, they aren’t something to worry about. However, getting a medical or dental evaluation is always a good idea if your symptoms are recurring or persistent. Most cases of mild TMJ are temporary and will resolve with non-invasive therapies. If you experience jaw pain after being struck in the face, you may have a fractured jaw or other serious injury. If you cannot open or close your mouth, you should seek emergency medical attention. Don’t try to force your jaw to move past the point of pain. You may cause further injury.