It is quite tempting for both the doctor and patient to treat pain symptoms with medication rather than trying to get to the root of what is causing the pain in the first place. It’s much easier to apply this quick fix rather than to take the time to investigate possible underlying factors.
Unfortunately, many doctors are forced to practice this way due to the quantity of patients they must see during their work day and some patient’s preference for immediate relief. This is when it is important for you as the patient to be your own best advocate. Help your doctor find the root of your symptoms by giving a complete medical, dental and medication history.
In my TMJ/TMD (a.k.a. temporomandibular joint, or jaw dysfunction) practice it is quite common, upon reviewing a new patient’s medical history, to find that the patient has already been prescribed several prescriptions for the pain and almost always the patient has tried over the counter remedies to no avail.
In some cases the patient had been given a generic TMJ splint, relieving the immediate pain, but causing long term issues and damage by negatively affecting the bite.
I find it very valuable to review the patient’s medical history with them at their first appointment. There is almost always something, possibly important, left out or something that needs a lot more explanation, and yet, when I ask the patient if the last doctor/dentist reviewed the history with them, the answer is often no.
Sometimes I even find that the patient will diagnose themselves if you let them expand on their symptoms and tell you details such as: how long have the symptoms existed; what time of day do they occur; is there pain anywhere else in their body; what activity was taking place when the initial symptom occurred, etc.
If the pain is due to a systemic problem and the doctor tries to treat it locally the problem would not only be delayed in its diagnosis, but the treatment can only partially help the symptom.
The following case is an extreme example of the importance of the diagnosis of the cause of pain rather than just treating it. I was recently referred a patient for TMJ and myofacial pain by another doctor who was thinking that perhaps her reoccurring tooth pain and headaches were due to TMJ/TMD.
Though I did start treatment by fabricating a custom TMJ splint, her symptoms did not fit into the usual symptoms of this syndrome. Rather than simply giving her pain medication along with the splint I referred her for a 3D scan of her TMJ and head. The scan revealed a severe maxillary sinus infection that had penetrated all the way through into the boney sinus wall and into the ethmoidal sinus, which is at the base of the brain. I immediately referred her to an ENT who sent her immediately for emergency surgery to prevent cranial penetration, a potentially fatal condition.
Yes, I admit this is a rare phenomenon and the first time for me in 35 years of TMJ practice. In a similar situation in another patient last year I found a tumor in a boney nerve canal that had been treated by several specialists.
I just completed a book titled, Why? In it, the question, “Why?” is emphasized in detail. Ask your doctor or dentist “why?” Be your own advocate. Asking for or settling for a “quick fix” to any condition won’t solve the underlying cause in the long run.
It’s hard for me to understand how some people would rather risk their well being than change their lifestyle. It never ceases to amaze me what the lifestyles include: from smoking to excessive drinking; to “sleeping” with the TV on; eating processed foods only; living on soft drinks and hating vegetables.
What can you do to make sure you are not getting the “quick fix”? Make sure that the professional you are seeing is qualified to do what should be a specialty. Does he or she belong to a specific association in that field? How does the practitioner feel about holistic medicine? Does he or she belong to professional associations outside of their regular practice?
Is the professional interested in you enough to get to know you at your visit, and want to find out why you are there? Don’t be reluctant to ask WHY when it comes to the treatment. If a prescription is written ask about it. What are the side effects? Google the prescription and check out the side effects yourself.
It can be very helpful to educate yourself on the subject of your symptoms. If you have the bad luck to go to, for example, a dentist that took a weekend course and now practices TMJ, you might find you know more.
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 email@example.com, or visit his web site at aodtc.com.