Diagnosing TMJ Pain

Sometimes life will guide you… if you let it.

More than thirty five years ago, being frustrated by my referrals to others for TMJ treatment, I attended a year long training to better my understanding of the disease. I had already taken many weekend courses, but felt more understanding was necessary. At that time, almost all the emphasis was placed on the way the teeth come together and how that related to the joint position.

At the time my two year old daughter was diagnosed with a very serious asthmatic condition and she received the standard medications, with side effects and limited effectiveness. At a local dental meeting there was a talk by an oral surgeon whose sister was saved from having near fatal attacks of asthma by alternative medicine. The oral surgeon was so impressed that he was retiring from practice to start an alternative treatment center in Idaho. I took him to lunch and, learning his story, became an enthusiastic student of alternative medicine. With this approach, I had my daughter asthma free within six months and she has gone on to become a world class athlete.

Incorporating a holistic approach to my diagnosis and to the establishment of a treatment plan has greatly improved treatment effectiveness. A simple two day course in acupuncture at UCLA, for example, helped me to discover that some migraines are related to colitis. Migraines are a good sized part of a TMJ practice and, in a non holistic practice, are usually treated with drugs.

In general, TMJ is a very poor term for a complex syndrome that can include a number of factors, the most common being myofacial pain, or pain in the muscles of the face, head, neck and shoulders. This pain can be so severe that it was necessary for me to refer one patient to emergency for attempting suicide.

Most of the time, it is just annoying, as it interferes with eating, talking and the general enjoyment of life. It can also be a true “pain in the neck,” with severe neck and shoulder pain. True TMJ or TMD is pain or dysfunction associated with the joint itself and can include popping or gravely sounding noises when moving the jaw, mild to severe pain and, sometimes, ringing in the ear.

The pharmaceutical industry would have us believe that the typical migraine is a disease to be treated with a drug, when it can be a symptom of an underlying disease. It’s like our body is crying out the only way it can for help, and the practitioner says, “shut up and take this.”

As I mentioned earlier, an irritated colon can cause migraine headaches. Crones disease, which is a name given to colon inflammation, can be the underlying factor, but wait, Crones is more a symptom, but is called a disease and, if only the symptom is treated, may continue to return and worsen.

In my practice several cases of this disease were caused by food sensitivities and in one case, by the body’s inability to handle raw vegetables. It was definitely not caused by a dietary prednisone deficiency, a steroid commonly used to treat Crones “disease”.

I have not strayed away from the original subject, TMJ. My purpose for using this example of incomplete medicine is to demonstrate the importance of the TMJ specialist understanding more than the limited field of his/her specialty. That practitioner could be missing the opportunity to discover the underlying factors that are causing the patient’s body to cry out for help. Many continue to view TMJ as a bite problem, and it may be just that, although most of the world has some kind of bite problem with no serious TMJ symptoms.

A good working relationship with other experts not only can be of extreme, even life-saving value to the patient, but makes a potentially boring practice become enriching experience. Belonging to professional organizations outside the field of dentistry can truly not only be of great benefit to the patient, but stimulating and refreshing, always opening new doors for the practitioner.

None of this would have happened had my daughter not contracted asthma and I did not develop an interest in holistic medicine!

Robert Brown, DDS has a TMJ, orthodontia, and sleep apnea practice in Danville and thoroughly enjoys discussing holistic medicine. You can contact him at 925-837-8048, at info@aodtc.com, or visit his web site at www.aodtc.com.