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Pain & The Immune System

Author: Donald Tanenbaum DDS MPH - Board-Certified Orofacial Pain Specialist at New York TMJ & Orofacial Pain

Date: December 2, 2022

Pain & The Immune System

At times we see a patient with TMJ symptoms, but something just doesn’t seem right. Instead of the usual history of most of my patients, which can include tooth grinding and clenching, neck tension, excessive worry and anxiety, and jaw clicking, this patient is experiencing jaw and facial pain for what appears to be no good reason. Jaw motion and function are normal, but pain persists on a daily basis.


A number of these patients have medical histories that include long-term gastrointestinal distress (IBS, Reflux, Gerd, and/or Crohn’s Disease), unexplained skin rashes, and joint pains throughout the body. As a result of these symptoms, they’ve consulted multiple medical specialists who have determined that an underlying autoimmune condition is causing spontaneous inflammatory pain and low pain thresholds.


An Intimate Relationship Between the Immune System & Persistent Pain


There appears to be an intimate relationship between the immune system and the part of the nervous system involved in the experience of persistent pain. Every day your immune system talks to your nervous system (and therefore, your brain) and helps to maintain comfort or sets off alarms if something is wrong such as a virus, infection, dehydration, low blood sugar, etc.


At times, however, people can experience pain because the immune system has told the nervous system that something is wrong – when nothing really is wrong.


It’s become obvious that face and jaw pain can be caused by autoimmune problems. Therefore, the likelihood that traditional treatments, such as jaw exercises, injections, and oral appliances, will fall short. Muscles and joints may only be the site of your symptoms but not the direct cause.


We treat many patients with autoimmune problems. We depend on the strong relationships we have with our physician colleagues in rheumatology and immunology to help these patients with a great deal of success.

DISCLAIMER: The advice offered in response to your questions is intended to be informational only and generic in nature. Namely, we in no way offer a definitive diagnosis or specific treatment recommendation for your particular situation. Our intent is solely educational and our responses to your actual questions serve as a springboard to discussion of a variety of dental topics that come up in a day-to-day dental practice. Any advice offered is no substitute for proper evaluation and care by a qualified professional.

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