In my practice, most patients are referred by their dentist, physician, or other health care professionals because they are experiencing facial pain or the common symptoms of TMJ/TMD (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder), which can include one more of the following: ear pain, jaw pain, limited jaw motion, joint noise, the inability to bring teeth together, facial tightness, and headaches often focused in the temples.
At times, however, the patient’s description of their symptoms and the history of their problem indicates that though their complaints are familiar, the origin of their problem may relate to an underlying medical disease or condition that has yet to be discovered. In other words, things are not what they seem to be!
For instance, the following medical conditions (a small sample) can produce the signs and symptoms of a TMJ/TMD problem:
- Sinus Tumors
- Acoustic Neuromas
- Thyroid disease
- Lyme Disease
- Tumors in the Salivary Glands
- Blocked Coronary Artery Tumors in the Neck
- Facial neuralgias
Though these conditions occur much less frequently than a common jaw ailment, they must be considered when a patient’s TMJ symptoms are not responding to common therapies and/or progressing over time. Once a specific diagnosis has been made, the treatments put into place will address the disease first, with the result of the secondary symptoms easing or disappearing over time. Unfortunately, at times if making the proper diagnosis is delayed, and the TMJ structures (muscles or joints) are treated instead of the real problem, suffering will continue.
From another perspective, there are times when the treatment for a diagnosed medical problem in the head and neck region requires surgery or radiation therapy. As a result of these treatments, however, jaw motion can become limited, and pain may develop that is continuous or related to jaw function. This, for example, can occur following surgery to remove a brain tumor, which requires cutting through the muscles in the temple.
As a result, scarring can occur, leading to diminished jaw motion. In the presence of these outcomes, however, there are a number of traditional TMJ therapies that can aid in the restoration of jaw function and regaining comfort. These could include:
- Oral Appliances
- Jaw Exercises and Physical Therapy
- Home Massage
- BOTOX® injections in the jaw muscles
- Trigger point injections
Clearly, then, facial pain and jaw-related problems are complicated at times. Your thoughts are welcome: