How Do You Know If You Have TMJ Disorder or Something Else?


For some people, TMJ disorder can be tricky to diagnose. One reason is that it can have similar symptoms to other medical conditions. The first step is to understand TMJ disorder and why it happens. Read on to learn more about this condition and how you can tell if you may have it.

What is TMJ Disorder?

TMJ disorder occurs when you have a problem with your temporomandibular joints. These joints are located on either side of your face and connect your jawbone to your skull. They are among the most complex joints in your body and act like sliding hinges whenever you open or close your mouth. If the hinges aren’t working smoothly, moving your mouth can be painful.

What Are the Symptoms of TMJ Disorder? 

A common symptom of TMJ disorder is persistent pain in your jaw when you eat, eat, drink, speak, smile, or laugh. However, there can be other signs as well. You likely have TMJ disorder if you also have one or more of these symptoms: 

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness and balance problems
  • Pain in the upper back and neck
  • Tingling or numbness in the fingers
  • Clicking or popping sounds when chewing or opening your mouth
  • Dental issues, including pain, abnormal wear, chips, or cracks
  • Facial pain
  • Tinnitus (ringing ears), earaches, or a feeling of fullness in the ears

If you only have jaw pain, it’s possible that you may still have TMJ disorder. However, you may also be experiencing a different condition, such as one of the following.

Conditions That May Be Mistaken for TMJ Disorder 

The following conditions can have some similarities – and some differences – when compared to TMJ disorder. 

  • Trigeminal Neuralgia: Along with your two temporomandibular joints, you also have two trigeminal nerves that send sensations from your face to your brain. Trigeminal neuralgia can occur when these nerves become irritated. As a result, you may experience symptoms such as pain in the face, teeth, and around the ear, along with numbness or tingling – but only on one side of the face. Also, trigeminal neuralgia is often characterized by a shooting pain that can feel like an electric shock.
  • Cluster, Migraine, or Tension Headaches: Often people experience headaches in their forehead. However, certain types of headaches – such as chronic cluster, migraine, or tension headaches – can also start at the sides of the face and the temples and radiate outward. This may be similar to the headaches caused by TMJ disorder.
  • Sinus Issues: Symptoms like headaches and pain around the temples can commonly be felt with TMJ disorder as well as chronic sinus pain and sinus infections. Chronic sinus issues, however, may be associated with allergies or problems with the structure of the sinuses. Also, an infection can result in symptoms such as discharge or possibly a fever.
  • Other Causes of Jaw and Facial Pain: Certain other conditions including facial trauma, an abscessed tooth, or herpes zoster (shingles) can also cause pain similar to symptoms of TMJ disorder.

How to Diagnose TMJ Disorder

The best way to know if you have TMJ disorder or something else is to consult a TMJ specialist. The dental experts at San Francisco Dental Wellness can determine what’s causing your symptoms and create a treatment plan that’s customized for you. Give them a call at 415-781-1944.