There are many potential causes of TMJ. Malocclusion–teeth that don’t fit together properly–can cause your jaw to move out of position. Bruxism can put stress on the jaw joint and lead to injury and degeneration. And a jaw injury that can cause displacement of the jaw joint.
But what many people find to their surprise is that a jaw injury can cause TMJ years after the injury occurs. There are many reasons why this may be the case.
The Injury Is Only Part of the Cause
TMJ may take a long time to develop after an injury because the injury itself is only part of the cause for the condition. The injury may cause your jaw to become displaced, but that isn’t always what causes your symptoms.
Instead, your symptoms often develop as a result of your body’s adaptation to the injury. A displaced disc can change the way your bones, muscles, and teeth work together. The body can adapt to the new arrangement, but it’s not always healthy. Accommodation can put strain on the joint, the teeth, and the muscles. The joint and teeth will suffer degenerative damage over time, and it may take time for this damage to become apparent.
On the other hand, your jaw muscles are more likely to develop stronger as a result of these accommodations. Unable to find a good resting position, your jaw muscles may become tense all the time, which means they can then cause damage to bones and teeth and put pressure on or overstimulate nerves, triggering migraines.
These aftereffects from the injury may take years to surface.
You Might Not Pay Attention to Symptoms at First
Or you might have developed symptoms right away, but didn’t really pay attention to them. TMJ symptoms at first may seem fairly minor. Jaw popping and clicking that’s not accompanied by pain–or only slight jaw pain–often gets neglected for years.
A minor sensation of ear fullness could be annoying, but you may not want to do anything about it at first.
People are more likely to ignore symptoms that seem to come and go on their own. And this is exactly what can happen with TMJ at first. In the early stages, TMJ might flare up only when you give your jaw a workout. Then, when you get a chance to rest, your symptoms go away and you forget about them until the next flare-up.
But when TMJ develops to a certain point, symptoms can become more severe and constant. And it’s then that people start paying attention. By this time, they may forget about that old injury or dismiss it because it happened years ago.
Symptoms Can Be Misdiagnosed
Another major problem with TMJ is that its many symptoms can make it hard to diagnose. For example, if you develop headaches after a car accident in which you hit neither your head nor your jaw, you might attribute these to concussion. But they could actually be related to jaw whiplash–soft tissue injury in the jaw that occurred without any direct impact.
We have had many patients who have spent years trying to track down the cause of TMJ-related symptoms. They have seen many doctors–including specialists–and tried many treatments without success.
But if you do finally realize what’s causing your headaches and other symptoms, the treatment can be very effective.
Although TMJ treatment works best when applied soon after your injury, it can still be effective with old injuries in many cases. To find out if noninvasive TMJ treatment can help you, please call today for an appointment with TMJ dentist Dr. Jeffrey S. Haddad at the Michigan Center for TMJ & Sleep Wellness.