It’s often hard to track down the cause of TMJ. Temporomandibular joint disorder can result from many potential causes, and finding the right cause can help guide treatment.
One common cause of TMJ is a jaw injury. But TMJ doesn’t necessarily develop right after the injury. It can take years to manifest itself. Here’s why your TMJ might happen years after the accident that caused it.
The Injury Is Only Part of the Cause
TMJ is a complex condition, and there are often many factors that contribute to its development. Often, the injury is only part of the reason why you developed TMJ. The other part is what happens after the injury.
After the injury causes something like a displacement of your jaw joint, the body has to adapt to that condition. In the process of adapting, the muscles might be asked to function in a different way than they had in the past. This differential function can make it so that the muscles can’t get back to the rest position they’re supposed to find.
Trying to get back to that rest position can make the muscles tense and sore–face pain in the muscles is one of the most common symptoms of TMJ. But in the process, the muscles are also causing your teeth to grind against each other, causing serious tooth wear. The muscles may be putting stress on your jaw joints. This can cause the cushioning disc in the joint to be worn down or permanently displaced. It may begin to damage the bones themselves.
As the process of adaptation continues, new symptoms continue to appear, but their appearance may be gradual, taking years to come to fruition.
You Might Not Pay Attention to Symptoms at First
Sometimes, symptoms actually do develop relatively quickly after the accident, but they’re not really noticed or considered serious. Jaw popping and clicking, for example, can be ignored for years–especially if there’s no pain or only very minor pain.
Or maybe your symptoms come and go. Say you have a period of intense jaw activity, which causes a flare-up of symptoms like headaches, tinnitus, or ear pain. But then you try some home care–say rest and relaxation with a soft diet–and the symptoms go away so you forget about them.
There are several things that might finally make you realize that your symptoms are serious and need professional attention. After a few recurrences, you might understand that the symptoms reflect a constant condition that flares periodically. Or maybe your symptoms become constant. Or they might be so severe that you just can’t ignore them any more.
Symptoms Can Be Misdiagnosed
But maybe the problem is your doctor. Because TMJ has many symptoms that can affect many parts of the body, it’s easy to misdiagnose the condition. People with TMJ might be told that they have migraines or that they have primary tension headaches. Or they might be told they have Meniere’s disease.
Misdiagnosis is even more common if your accident might have caused other injuries as well. For example, your doctor might suspect that you suffered a head injury in the accident where your jaw was injured. This could send you down the path of getting treatment for head injuries when you need jaw treatment–either instead of or in addition to your head injuries.
But once we can track down the true cause of your symptoms, TMJ treatment can be very effective.