When people refer to TMJ, it is a group of conditions that affect your jaw joint and the surrounding muscles. TMJ disorder is a dysfunction in the joints and muscles that affect your jaw movement, which can sometimes manifest in painful symptoms during specific movements such as yawning, speaking, or any similar movements. It remains unknown how this disorder could happen, but one thing is for sure, it affects many people. But how many people are affected by it, and why is getting it diagnosed important?
Is TMJ Common?
If you have been diagnosed by your dentist with TMJ disorder, you often have two questions. The first one is: what causes it? And the second question is: how common is it?
Researchers continue to dig deep into this condition to understand its causes and make safer and more effective treatment recommendations. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, TMJ disorder affects roughly 10 million people in the US alone. Meanwhile, the same source estimates that TMJ disorders affect 5 to 12% of the global population.
Researchers point to various external and internal factors that contribute to TMJ problems. Stress and trauma are leading causes, while grinding habits during sleep and chewing hard foods can also be contributing factors. All these factors are present in some patients, increasing the likelihood of TMJ problems.
Who is at Risk from TMJ?
Lifestyle factors aside, the data on the statistics for diagnosed TMJ patients gives a fascinating insight into the condition. One more surprising piece of information is that TMJ disorders affect more women than men. This scholarly article exploring the epidemiology of TMJ evaluated 42 articles on the subject and concluded that TMJ conditions are two to four times higher in women than in men.
Another interesting fact about women who were diagnosed with TMJ disorders is that the prevalence of the symptoms occurred between the age of 25 to 45, or that which are known as the reproductive years. Therefore, researchers concluded that certain biological, psychological, and social factors in women contributed to the increased risk of TMJ symptoms.
Why There Could Be More Undiagnosed Cases of TMJ?
Currently, no standard test for TMJ is widely accepted within the medical community. The reason why is that no one has been able to pinpoint the exact cause of why TMJ disorders occur, and the symptoms vary from one patient to another. Therefore, it is challenging to identify and assess these symptoms as potentially linked to TMJ or some other condition.
The current method of diagnosis is that healthcare providers and dentists take note of the patient’s symptoms. They also look into a patient’s medical and dental history. Doctors also perform additional tests on the head, jaw, and face in the form of imaging studies. The information gathered in these tests is analyzed and compared to diagnose TMJ disorder in a patient.
Since there are many connected joints and muscles in the neck, jaw, and face, TMJ conditions typically appear with some other issues like migraines, ear infections or pain, and nerve-related facial pain. It can be challenging for some doctors to rule out TMJ in the presence of these symptoms and the abovementioned conditions. In any case, you should always see a doctor to rule out the possibility of other conditions that might cause facial pain and other symptoms.
Factors that Can Lead to TMJ
Despite the dental and medical community making great strides in researching TMJ, there is still more that needs to be done to understand this condition better. One of the reasons it is difficult to study is the lack of a standard definition of TMJ disorder and the tools to measure facial and jaw pain. Currently, the best way to assess TMJ symptoms is to allow the patient to measure the type and duration of the joint and muscle pain in the jaw area.
Research efforts on TMJ disorders use various approaches to understand data from those already diagnosed with the condition. The International Journal of Dentistry has produced the following vital statistics on the prevalence of TMJ disorders among the patient sample in the Dental Clinic of Ajman University in the UAE:
- The prevalence of TMJ disorder was highest among the 19-29 age groups.
- Only 5% of the collected sample had an occupation-related habit that could contribute to the development of TMJ symptoms.
- Only 15% of patients showcased difficulty or limitation in opening their mouths.
- About 32% of the patients reported clicking on the right side of the mouth, while 24% reported it on the left side. 32% of the sample had clicking on both sides of the mouth.
- About 83% of the patients had no deviation in their mouth due to the TMJ condition.
- About 56% of patients claimed that they had a preference for a hard diet. Only 32% followed a soft diet.
The conclusion of the study suggests that habits played a crucial role in developing TMJ symptoms. These habits include bruxism or teeth grinding, chewing gum, or nail biting. Surprisingly, occupational habits were a minor factor in the development of TMJ symptoms.
The results of this study are only an indication to analyzing how common TMJ is and what factors can contribute to this condition as only a relatively small sample of patients were included in this study from a total of over 10 million diagnosed patients.
The Risks of Undiagnosed and Untreated TMJ
What happens if you have TMJ and it is left undiagnosed? Does TMJ go away on its own?
If you have symptoms similar to TMJ disorder, you are probably worried if you have it, too. TMJ is not a modern problem; the earliest mention of it was in 1887, involving two women who suffered from a locked jaw and resulting pain.
If you suspect you have TMJ, you must consult with your doctor right away. Your symptoms could worsen over time and cause more pain. One of the complications resulting from undiagnosed and untreated TMJ is chronic jaw pain, which makes it difficult to speak, chew, or yawn.
The symptoms of TMJ can also lead to chronic headaches, jaw joint damage, and dental damage. Many patients are at risk of mental health problems because the pain can affect how they interact with social situations and prevent them from living a normal life where they can enjoy their hobbies.
The prevalence of TMJ is relatively high. If you are one of those suffering from the common symptoms, consult a doctor before it worsens.