Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (cont.)

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What are common TMJ symptoms?

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TMJ pain disorders usually occur because of unbalanced activity, spasm, or overuse of the jaw muscles. Symptoms tend to be chronic, and treatment is aimed at eliminating the precipitating factors. Many symptoms may not appear related to the TMJ itself. The following are common symptoms.

Headache: Approximately 80% of patients with a TMJ disorder complain of headache, and 40% report facial pain. Pain is often made worse while opening and closing the jaw. Exposure to cold weather or air-conditioned air may increase muscle contraction and facial pain.

Ear pain: About 50% of patients with a TMJ disorder notice ear pain and do not have signs of ear infection. The ear pain is usually described as being in front of or below the ear. Often, patients are treated multiple times for a presumed ear infection, which can often be distinguished from TMJ disorder by an associated hearing loss or ear drainage (which would be expected if there really was an ear infection). Because ear pain occurs so commonly, ear specialists are frequently called on to make the diagnosis of a TMJ disorder.

Sounds: Grinding, crunching, clicking, or popping sounds, medically termed crepitus, are common for patients with a TMJ disorder. These sounds may or may not be accompanied by increased pain.

Dizziness: Of patients with a TMJ disorder, 40% report a vague sense of dizziness or imbalance (usually not a spinning type vertigo). The cause of this type of dizziness is not well understood.

Fullness of the ear: About 33% of patients with a TMJ disorder describe muffled, clogged, or full ears. They may notice ear fullness and pain during airplane takeoffs and landings. These symptoms are usually caused by eustachian-tube dysfunction, the structure responsible for the regulation of pressure in the middle ear. It is thought that patients with TMJ disorders have hyperactivity (spasms) of the muscles responsible for regulating the opening and closing of the eustachian tube.

Ringing in the ear (tinnitus): For unknown reasons, 33% of patients with a TMJ disorder experience noise or ringing in the ears (tinnitus). Of those patients, half will have resolution of their tinnitus after successful treatment of their TMJ disorder.


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