Though tens of millions of Americans are thought to suffer from temporomandibular joint disorder (also known as TMJ disorder), the condition itself can be tricky to diagnose, particularly for physicians who lack experience in neuromuscular dentistry or craniofacial pain.

But a program at Tufts University indicates a holistic approach that involves dentists, physicians, and other healthcare professionals may help hone in on — and effectively treat — TMJ and other craniofacial conditions earlier and more effectively.

The Misleading Symptoms of TMJ

TMJ disorder presents a diagnostic challenge because its symptoms are often felt far from their source, and many of TMJ’s indicators are shared with other health ailments. Though TMJ disorder is commonly associated with jaw alignment problems and bite conditions, its most widely reported symptoms include chronic headaches or migraines, and persistent pain in the neck, shoulders and back.

Other TMJ symptoms include:

  • Jaw pain
  • Jaw clicking, popping or sticking
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Tingling sensation in the fingers or hands

The symptoms themselves vary by individual, and many are linked with other conditions as disparate as arthritis and sinus infections.

A Holistic Approach

A recent TuftsNow article describes how the university’s Craniofacial Pain Center involves specialists from multiple disciplines, who collaborate to achieve an accurate diagnosis and design a treatment plan that corrects the problem rather than simply subduing the symptoms. A patient assessment at the Tufts Craniofacial Pain Center may include a dentist, physician, neurologist, psychologist, physical therapist and others.

“Face pain is an elusive area,” observes Egilius Spierings, a clinical professor at the university’s School of Dental Medicine, in the article. “Very few people or institutions really have a good understanding of it.”

Even with a broader approach, some conditions, including TMJ disorder, can still prove evasive. The article notes a case in which a patient appeared to have temporomandibular joint disorder; however, one of the consulting physicians noticed the patient had a rash, and he ordered a blood test. The results revealed Lyme disease, the dangerous tick-borne illness whose symptoms include headaches and joint pain.

A Patient’s Role in TMJ Diagnosis

As the authors of the TuftsNow article observe, many people who suffer from craniofacial conditions see multiple doctors who either miss or misdiagnose the source of their discomfort by the time they consult a specialist like a neuromuscular dentist.

When seeking help for symptoms that don’t seem connected, patients can help by taking note of the specific indicators and details about them. Patients who have visited other healthcare providers should mention any previous attempts at diagnosis and treatment; a neuromuscular dentist, for example, may be able to glean valuable details from a prior assessment by a general practitioner.

There are a number of comfortable, effective treatment options for TMJ disorder, but the first step in relieving this painful condition is an accurate diagnosis. And sometimes that takes a team approach.

If you live in the Columbia, SC, area and you suffer from persistent headaches and other vague symptoms that have otherwise escaped diagnosis, please call (803) 781-9090 to schedule your appointment with a knowledgeable neuromuscular dentist at Smile Columbia Dentistry.