7 Common Misconceptions About TMJ Disorder

Understanding TMJ disorder

Understanding TMJ Disorder

The joints of your jaw, called the temporomandibular joints, are strong and mobile. They have to be to allow you to exert the surprising amount of force they use to chew your food. Their mobility is rare among our joints, allowing you to move your jaw up, down, forward, backward, and side to side. This power and mobility, however, as well as the fact that they always operate together, means that these joints are also incredibly complex.

When something is wrong with these joints or the surrounding muscles or ligaments that allow them to function properly, you can be diagnosed with an issue called TMJ disorder.

This disorder is an umbrella term for a lot of potential issues with your jaws, so it’s easy for the condition to quickly begin sounding just as complex as the joints themselves—especially since it’s easy to stumble upon misconceptions about TMJ disorder when you’re doing research at home. To help you understand this condition better and feel more confident that your jaws can be just as strong and pain-free as they used to be, we’ve put together a guide revealing the truth behind 7 common misconceptions about it.

TMJ means a problem with the jaw.

A lot of people refer to this group of jaw disorders as “TMJ,” but TMJ is actually just a shorter name for the joints of your jaws themselves, called the temporomandibular joints. The disorder is called temporomandibular joint disorder or TMJ disorder, both of which are sometimes shortened to TMJD or TMD.

My jaw hurting means I have TMJ disorder. 

Jaw pain is a major symptom of TMJ disorder, but experiencing jaw pain doesn’t always mean that you have the condition. There are several other reasons your jaws could be hurting, from simply overworking them to oral health issues like gum disease. On the other hand, TMJ disorder often causes much more than just jaw pain.

Sometimes you have TMJ disorder, but you may notice other symptoms like neck, shoulder, and back pain or frequent headaches first. These symptoms may be more prominent than your jaw pain, especially since there are a surprising number of them. Aside from jaw pain, symptoms of TMJ disorder include:

  • Muscle tension and soreness in your neck, shoulders, and back
  • Earaches or tinnitus
  • Dizziness
  • Frequent or severe TMJ headache
  • Locked jaw
  • Clicking, grinding, or popping sounds
  • Bruxism

If you find this range of symptoms surprising, you’re not the only one. Many people are surprised that some of the symptoms they’ve been experiencing are actually caused by TMJ disorder—and therefore are also surprised by how much better treatment makes them feel!

It’s a rare condition.

It’s easy to assume that TMJ disorder is relatively rare, especially if you haven’t heard of it until recently. In reality, however, it’s actually incredibly common, with as many as 11 to 12 million adults suffering from the condition in the United States alone.

TMJ disorder is caused by stress.

This misconception is partially true because stress can certainly lead to TMJ disorder, especially if you’re often clenching or grinding your teeth as a result. Despite this, it’s far from the only cause. Other issues that lead to bruxism, whether it’s simply a habit or another issue like sleep apnea, can lead to TMJ disorder as well.

A misaligned bite can also lead or contribute to TMJ disorder by putting the joints and muscles of your jaw because it means that your jaw isn’t being held in the ideal position. This puts them under excessive strain and prevents them from relaxing fully. Issues with your jaw’s joints, muscles, or ligaments due to an injury, arthritis, or a connective tissue disease like Ehlers-Danlos syndrome can also lead to TMJ disorder.

Only older people have it.

While your chances of getting TMJ disorder go up as you get older and your joints naturally begin to deteriorate, the condition can affect anyone at any age. Even children and teenagers can develop TMJ disorder due to issues like stress, bruxism, or a misaligned bite. This means that you shouldn’t dismiss TMJ disorder as a possibility just because you’re young. If you’re experiencing TMJ symptoms, the best thing to do is schedule an appointment with Dr. Desai at Luminous Smiles to either diagnose it or rule it out. That way, you’ll be able to find relief faster!

Once you have TMJ disorder, it will never go away.

Thankfully, this misconception is far from true! In most cases, TMJ disorder either goes away on its own or responds to treatment. In fact, one study found that 40% of patients experience relief from symptoms without any treatment at all. Only 5% to 10% of patients require treatment for TMJ disorder, and of those patients, a long-term follow-up study found that 50% to 90% reported pain relief after conservative TMJ disorder treatments. This shows just how treatable the condition is. If you have TMJ disorder, it can be incredibly encouraging to hear that there’s likely an end to your symptoms in sight—whether or not you end up needing treatment!  

Surgery is the only treatment.

Although TMJ surgery is sometimes necessary to treat severe TMJ disorder, it’s only a last resort when more conservative treatments have failed or there is a more severe issue with the joint itself that can only be corrected through surgery. In most cases, however, TMJ disorder is treatable through a range of simple, conservative treatments. There’s a wide range of treatment options available, some of which are designed to treat different causes of TMJ disorder.

Stress management techniques or counseling can be used to address stress or anxiety, while physical therapy is often used to gently strengthen the muscles in your jaw. Dental treatments such as orthodontics, oral splints, or mouth guards can also be incredibly helpful. Additionally, you may receive over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers, muscle relaxants, or anti-inflammatory medications to relieve TMJ pain while you find a treatment option that works for you. Which treatment your dentist recommends depends heavily on the cause of your TMJ disorder and may involve a little trial and error to find the best method for you, but the results are beyond worth it!

Don’t live with TMJ pain.

While your TMJ needs to be complex to function the way it does, treating TMJ disorder is often relatively simple and much less intimidating than you may have expected. The results are often even better than you could have imagined, too, relieving TMJ pain in areas that you may not have realized were related to your jaw pain. If you’re suffering from TMJ pain and suspect that you may have TMJ disorder, the best time to act is now! Feel free to schedule a consultation with Dr. Desai at any time.