A challenge in diagnosing and treating TMJ is that it has a lot of overlap with many other conditions. This can lead people to thinking they have a different condition than they actually do, which can delay treatment and sometimes leads to the wrong treatment. This has become more serious in the Internet age, where Google searches for symptoms can lead one to many erroneous results. A search can sometimes put a rare condition front and center. That’s why it’s important to consider both the common and unusual conditions that overlap with TMJ symptoms.
One very unusual condition that people sometimes confuse with TMJ is acromegaly.
What Is Acromegaly?
Acromegaly is a hormonal condition where you body produces too many growth hormones. This causes the bones to continue to grow, leading a person to grow taller, but also broader, perhaps most noticeably in the jaw.
This condition is often caused by a benign tumor on the pituitary gland, where the pressure triggers the increased release of growth hormones. However, it could also be related to other tumors.
As with many other conditions, acromegaly ostensibly shares many symptoms with TMJ. People with both conditions might experience:
- Jaw pain
- Changes in the way teeth fit together
- Sore neck and back
- Tingling and numbness in the fingers
When people experience these symptoms, it may initially look like either condition. For some of the symptoms, it can be hard to distinguish the two conditions. For example, headaches that occur in either condition might seem similar enough that it’s not easy to use them to distinguish the problems. Neck and back pain can also be similar for both conditions. The same might be true with jaw pain. Both TMJ and acromegaly can cause jaw joint pain, which can make them difficult to distinguish. But most often, it’s TMJ that causes jaw muscle pain.
When your teeth change the way they fit together, it could be related to many different conditions, including gum disease. However, with acromegaly, the teeth are most likely to simply space apart while remaining generally straight. That’s because the jaw is growing around the teeth, which have to move with the jawbone where they’re anchored.
Tingling and numbness in the fingers is often due to carpal tunnel, a complication of acromegaly. But different fingers are affected. In carpal tunnel, tingling and numbness occur in the thumb, index, and middle fingers. TMJ-related tingling tends to manifest in the pinky and ring finger.
You can also distinguish acromegaly from TMJ with several symptoms unique to it. These include:
- Vision changes
- Changes in the shape of the forehead
- Voice changes
- Nerve paralysis
- Enlarged brow ridges
- Broadening chin
- Puffy appearance
If you have these symptoms, it is more likely that you have acromegaly.
Managing Both Conditions
Sometimes, people can develop TMJ that’s secondary to acromegaly. In this case, it’s important to manage your acromegaly first. This might be done through the removal of the pressuring tumor, drug therapy, or radiation therapy. Once the acromegaly is controlled, but symptoms persist, we can begin to manage the TMJ, and consider whether cosmetic dentistry might help improve the remaining symptoms.