Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (also TMJ) pain has been called “The Great Imposter” because it mimics so many medical disorders, such as tension headaches, sinus headaches, infected ear, fibromyalgia and even chronic fatigue syndrome. Because it appears to be medical, people seek medical help.
Let’s use sinus headache as an example. Since it appears to be pain from the sinus, people look for help from and ear nose & throat doctor only to be advised that the sinuses are clear. Since there is no confirmed diagnosis, there can be no recommended treatment.
Physicians are trained to find infections, tumors, etc. They are not trained in the diagnoses of temporomandibular joint dysfunction. Physicians literally get no training in dentistry at all, so it is easy to see why they are not diagnosing it. In medicine, a differential diagnosis is distinguishing a partiular disease or conditions that present similar symptoms. Thankfully, medical doctors are starting to realize temporomandibular joint dysfunction exists and are referring to dentists for a differential diagnosis.
What is TMD?
The only thing that holds the lower jaw on your head, other than the skin on your face, are muscles, ligaments and tendons. Collectively, they act as two huge elastic bands on each side of the head, which are in constant motion, either opening or closing in some very complex moves. Temporomandibular joint dysfunction pain occurs when this complex is out of balance. The unbalance creates painful trigger points in the muscles of the head. The pain can be episodic, it can be mild or severe, and it is always disguised as a medical problem.
So how do these bands get so out of whack? Temporomandibular joint dysfunction is like driving down a dirt road with deep ruts, bouncing a vehicle from side to side, knocking tires out of balance and filling them with mud. If the lower jaw is closing into ruts instead of a smooth road, disharmony occurs creating muscle pain or tooth destruction. A plastic orthotic overlays the lower teeth tricking the brain into thinking the jaw is closing on a smooth road.
Do you have Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction?
Here are a couple ways to self diagnose:
If your pain is from the temple, push on area right behind the eye and then bite down. You will feel the temporalis muscle move. If you feel the entire muscle with slight pressure, you might be able to feel a knot bigger than a dime or a quarter. If it hurts when you push on it, it is a temporomandibular joint dysfunction trigger point and the reason for the headache.
If the pain feels like it is coming from the jaw area, do the same. Bite down and feel the muscle move and keep feeling for a knot. If you find one and it hurts on pressure, that is a trigger point.
Do the same for the back of the neck where it meets the skull.
There are other ways to check for temporomandibular joint dysfunction, but the above instructions make it easy and interesting. If what I have written makes sense, and you feel you may be a temporomandibular joint dysfunction sufferer, please talk to us. Not all dentists treat temporomandibular joint dysfunction, but Dr. Stephanie Kinsey is highly trained in this field and committed to helping all of our patients that suffer from this disease.