It’s such a beautiful time of the year, November. Autumn has arrived in all its glory, with the holidays just around the corner, and the thought of a delicious Thanksgiving dinner fills the hearts, minds, and kitchens of many Americans. November is also a special month for dentists and other oral health professionals: TMJ Awareness Month. This is a chance for dentists to raise awareness and understanding about TMJ and the impact it has on the health of millions of people across the country. So, in the spirit of the season, let’s talk about TMJ, TMJ awareness month, and the link between TMJ and some forms of oral or mouth cancers.
What is TMJ?
TMJ is a shortened version of its full name: Temporomandibular joint disorder. In simpler terms, it’s a disorder of the joint connecting the lower and upper jaw, the temporomandibular joint, which results when the function of that joint becomes unbalance or misaligned and the bones, muscles, and ligaments no longer work together to provide a full range of motion without pain. TMJ can be tricky to diagnose due to the wide variety of symptoms it can cause, but some of those include the following:
- Jaw pain
- Limited or irregular jaw motion, including the inability to open or close the jaw
- Popping, clicking, or grinding jaw
- Pain in the face, neck, shoulder, or back
- Chipped, worn, or cracked teeth
- Tinnitus, ear pain, or stuffiness in the ears
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Numbness or tingling in fingers
As you might guess from the sheer number of symptoms, TMJ is a disorder that varies from person to person and has many potential causes. Sometimes the cushioning tissues between the jawbones are misaligned or worn down. Arthritis is often to blame particularly in older patients. Muscle tension or malformation may be the problem for some people, while for others the ligaments connecting the jaws may have been damaged. It’s tricky to diagnose or treat TMJ on your own, so if you find yourself persistently dealing with any of these symptoms or a combination thereof it’s time to see your doctor or dentist and have them look at the problem.
Just as TMJ disorder has causes and a variety of symptoms, it likewise has many different treatments. Which treatment your doctor suggests will depend on your symptoms and the root cause of your TMJ. Treatments may include stress management, physical therapy, a mouthguard to be worn at night, and medication are all common options. Occasionally surgery is required, but that’s not usually the case. Again, your doctor can help you understand the cause or causes of your TMJ disorder and help you through the right treatment to meet your needs.
TMJ and Mouth Cancers
As you know, TMJ can be difficult to diagnose. One of the ramifications of this is that there are some forms of oral cancers that can mimic TMJ symptoms and lead to a misdiagnosis. As we move through TMJ Awareness Month, it’s important to raise awareness of this issue as part of overall TMJ disorder awareness. When diagnosing or treating a patient with TMJ-like symptoms, it’s important to consider the possibility of one of several forms of cancer. Cancers that can mimic TMJ symptoms include:
- Sinus Tumors
- Acoustic Neuromas
- Thyroid disease
- Lyme Disease
- Tumors in the Salivary Glands
- Blocked Coronary Artery Tumors in the Neck
- Facial neuralgias
While these are all rare when compared to the many causes of TMJ, they are possibilities and health care providers should take care to consider a patient’s entire medical history when making a diagnosis
TMJ Awareness Month runs all November long, and we hope you’ll join us by learning more about TMJ, TMJ disorder, and its symptoms and causes. Awareness is the key to early treatment, which in turn helps your medical professional get you the best possible outcome. If you have any persistent symptoms of TMJ, please contact us today to discuss your situation and begin the process of treatment.