Lyme disease used to be rare in Michigan. It was so rare, in fact, that people with the symptoms of the disease were told that “We don’t have Lyme disease here.”

But that’s in the past. A study published last year showed that cases of Lyme disease in the state have increased fivefold in recent years, growing from 30 cases or less a year in 2004 to 166 in 2013, a number that is most likely underestimated because people don’t recognize the symptoms and it’s often misdiagnosed as other conditions, including TMJ, temporomandibular joint disorders.

A tick resting on a branch

Why the Increase?

We have seen such a dramatic increase in Lyme disease cases in part because the blacklegged tick, which carries the disease, has spread through the state. In 1998, the ticks were reported in 22 counties, but only established in five. In 2016, the ticks were reported in 18 counties, but are now confirmed to be established in 24 counties.

The ticks have been reported in Oakland County throughout the entire period, but now the ticks are confirmed to be established in nearby Ingham County. The ticks have not been reported in Wayne County. Overall, the arthropods are established in the western part of the state, especially on the Lake Michigan coast, and are less established in the eastern part of the state, with the Ontario border, the Lake Huron and Lake Erie coasts being relatively free from blacklegged ticks.

Lyme Disease vs. TMJ: How to Tell the Difference

Lyme disease is more likely to be misdiagnosed as TMJ if you’re not aware of the different symptoms. If you only report limited symptoms to your doctor or dentist, they won’t have enough information to make a proper diagnosis. Misdiagnosis of Lyme disease is dangerous, because the longer you go without treatment for Lyme disease, the more likely you are to experience long-term nerve damage.

The common symptoms we see between Lyme disease and TMJ are:

  • Jaw pain
  • Neck pain
  • Headaches

Less commonly, people can experience pain, tingling, or numbness in the arms from either condition.

However, with TMJ, people are more likely to experience:

  • Tooth wear
  • Ear symptoms (pain, ringing, and vertigo)
  • Popping or clicking in the jaw joint

But if you have Lyme disease, you are more likely to experience:

  • Erythema migrans (EM) rash
  • Fever and other flu-like symptoms
  • Joint pain in the lower limbs, such as knees
  • Short-term memory problems

The EM rash is the classical bull’s-eye rash that can develop after a tick bite. However, the rash can take many forms. Check out this CDC gallery of EM rashes to see some of the variations.

You should definitely suspect Lyme disease if you traveled to an area where blacklegged ticks are established, or if you had a tick bite. However, you should not rule out Lyme disease just because you never saw a rash. Some people don’t notice the rash (it could have been hidden under your hair, for example), but still develop Lyme disease. Fever and other flu-like symptoms are also strongly indicative that you’ve gotten Lyme disease. If you suspect Lyme disease, there are tests available that will usually identify it.

On the other hand, you should suspect TMJ if you have had jaw trauma or a subjective sense that your teeth aren’t fitting together right.

We Can Help Identify TMJ

At the Michigan Center for TMJ & Sleep Wellness, we have scientific diagnostic tools that can help us determine whether you have TMJ. This can help you get the proper diagnosis and get the right treatment to relieve your symptoms.

Please call (248) 480-0085 today for an appointment with TMJ dentist Dr. Jeffrey S. Haddad.