TMJ: The Struggle is Real

It is absolutely insane the things you live with that you think are normal. For me, I’ve probably lived with TMJ disorder for years and years thinking it was normal. In this blog, I’m just going to say TMJ, but really, everyone has TMJ because it stands for temporomandibular joint. It’s what connects your jaw to your skull. People can have issues with their TMJ, hence, a TMJ disorder–or what many say is “TMJ.”

It all started when I asked a group I’m a part of on Facebook if they ever got spasm-like clicking in their ears. I wanted to see if anyone else had this issue as sometimes I would notice a popping noise in my ears. Usually happens in meetings or when I’m talking to someone in a small room. Someone in the group reached out and said they had something similar, noting it was a part of their Meniere’s Disease. In addition, they had constant ringing in their ears.

At first, I didn’t think about the ringing. I knew I had it, but didn’t realize how often. When I started to pay attention, I realized I have ringing in my ears 24/7. When there is white noise or a TV on, I can’t really hear the ringing. But in silence, it is there. Always. And certain foods or alcohol can intensify it.

I realized this summer this wasn’t right and wanted to get to the bottom of it. It started with a visit to my doctor. She said it definitely wasn’t normal and referred me to an ear, nose and throat specialist.

That visit? … kind of made me angry. It started with a hearing test, and that went fine. When it came to my actual hearing, they said everything was A-OK. After the test, I met with the specialist. When it came time to talk to her, that’s where it got dicey for me. She checked me out and basically said everything looked okay, which was okay to say. Although obviously with a constant ringing, something isn’t right. At first she told me I could turn the TV up louder or look into a white noise machine…but since she didn’t see anything wrong, there was nothing else that could be done.

Sorry, I don’t want to live my entire life having to deal with this. Maybe I’ll have to, but I’m going to exhaust every option first.

Before we wrapped up she asked to look into my mouth. The second I opened my mouth, my jaw popped. As it always does. I figured this was normal. That immediately caught her attention.

“Does it always do that?” she asked. I replied yes and replicated it. Anytime I open my mouth, my jaw always pops. I can get it to not do that, but I have to open it in a weird way. Even then, it still usually pops. This quickly turned into, “you might have TMJ.”

TMJ? I knew TMJ had something to do with your jaw hurting. I never put the two-and-two together on things I was experiencing. It never crossed my mind this would be something I might have.

Next step? Talk to my dentist. It also made me mad because she said dentists don’t typically like to talk to people about TMJ because they are dealing with, and I quote, “tooth problems.” But I knew my dentist would help, and I’d just happened to have a cleaning the following week.

When I brought it up at my appointment, he instantly noticed the jaw popping. He also mentioned how tense the muscles were around it. When talking about it, then researching after, I realized I had a ton of different symptoms that I thought were normal. For instance, my jaw just getting sore. It happened a lot after dentist appointments but every so often it would be sore.

And to come back full circle, ringing in the ears can be a symptom of TMJ. WHO KNEW!

He also took x-rays of my mouth and pointed out to me my jaw. My left side is definitely more uneven, hence the popping.

One of the first things my dentist have me to was to purchase a bite guard. They basically took a mold of my mouth and then I got a plastic guard that I put in my mouth to wear at night. It is supposed to help reduce the amount of clenching. I never thought I was a teeth grinder, and I don’t think I am, but after getting this bite guard, I definitely notice that I clench my teeth a lot at night. This can lead to louder ringing in the ears. He also gave me a muscle relaxer to take at night to help calm the muscles. It definitely helps.

All of this started last summer. It took awhile to get to the point where I found out it was TMJ. Since then, I’ve realized how many symptoms of TMJ I’ve had. Sometimes I get headaches, while other times my jaw area is just super sore. Here recently I experienced something new where the entire area just hurt incredibly bad for three days straight.

My dentist increased the dose on my muscle relaxer and I still wear the bite guard every night. No changes in the ringing yet, but some people said it took them six months with a bite guard before they noticed a difference.

It’s all a work in progress, but at least I am aware now. So if you have ringing in your ears, hear a popping or spasm noise, or have overall pain in your jaw area… it’s not normal. However, there is relief. Talk to your dentist. If they don’t help, talk to an ENT or your doctor. Don’t just deal with it, try to find ways to cope. It’s not fun, but there are things you can do.

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