Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ) has become more and more recognized in today’s culture, and symptoms such as jaw pain or clicking and popping noises are well known. The problem with TMJ, and what makes it notoriously difficult to self-diagnose, is that symptoms are not always commonplace, and can in fact manifest in several different ways not restricted to the jaw.

Here are four TMJ symptoms that may be surprising.

A man rubbing his hand in discomfort

Tingling Fingers

A numb, prickling, or tingling sensation in the fingers may not seem like a sign of TMJ, but is much more common than you think. The same systems which cause numbness in the face, neck, shoulders, or back, can also lead to numbness in your fingers. Due to our vertical posture, when the jaw rests higher on one side of the other our body maintains equilibrium by offsetting our shoulders and back muscles, which can negatively affect our arms and our hands by pinching nerves. They can be pinched at the spine or, sometimes, upon leaving the chest.

Ringing In Ears

Ringing in the ears or tinnitus can be heard as roaring, clicking, or buzzing. In general, tinnitus is not a disease but a symptom. The temporomandibular joint mimics a sliding hinge between the lower jaw and the skull just below both ear canals. Because it is a moveable joint that supports other muscles, any physical dysfunction of the joint can trigger sensations in the surrounding structures which can cause many different ear symptoms, ranging from ear fullness to ear pain to tinnitus to vertigo. Although people don’t often make the connection, some studies show that about 78% of people with TMJ report ear-related symptoms.


A study conducted at University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine is one of many to find that headaches related to TMJ symptoms are misdiagnosed. When your jaw muscle tightens, either from clenching your teeth or muscle weakness, the pain from your jaw can radiate upwards causing headaches and, in some cases, migraines. Because headaches are so common, and causes so difficult to determine, often we can misread the signs and attribute these headaches to something else.

Obstructed Airways

Some of the main contributors of sleep apnea are weight, posture, and the tongue. Because of the tongue’s relationship with the lower jaw muscles, its position can be affected by jaw alignment, pushing the tongue too far back in the mouth and causing airway obstruction issues such as sleep apnea. Known to increase risk factors for cardiovascular problems, obesity, and high blood pressure, sleep apnea is a serious problem that should be treated as soon as possible.

If you are experiencing any of these less common symptoms in conjunction with jaw soreness, clicking or popping, or lockjaw, schedule an appointment as soon as possible. TMJ is a progressive disorder that will become more difficult to treat in the future.

If you live in Wilmington, NC, and are worried about your TMJ symptoms, please call (910) 392-6060 today for an appointment with neuromuscular dentist Dr. Michael Kuzma at Kuzma Advanced Dentistry.