Many people with fibromyalgia must also face the pain caused by temporomandibular joint disorder, an illness that affects the muscles and joints in the face. TMJ disorder can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, including nausea, headache, dizziness, and jaw difficulties.
About 90% of fibromyalgia sufferers are thought to experience facial and jaw pain, and a large number of these probably have TMJ disorder. Diagnosis of TMJD can sometimes be difficult, especially for those who already have fibromyalgia.
What is Temporomandibular Joint Disorder?
TMJD is a disorder that affects the functioning of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), more commonly referred to as the jawbone. TMJD also attacks the muscles and cartilage throughout the face, head, and neck.
TMJ dysfunction can cause a variety of problems, ranging from headaches to a locked jaw, so it is important to get any symptoms of TMJD properly diagnosed.
Jaw problems are not unusual in our society. More than 40% of the population will experience some type of jaw problem in their life. But TMJD is more than just a little jaw problem – it is a serious joint disorder that can cause extreme pain and discomfort.
When coupled with fibromyalgia symptoms, TMJD can be debilitating. It is thought that more than 75% of people with fibromyalgia also suffer from some type of TMJD. About 25% of these people suffer chronically from TMJD. Like fibromyalgia, most sufferers of TMJD are female and between the ages of 20 and 50.
Types of Temporomandibular Joint Disorder
There are two main types of TMJD:
Joint TMJD: Joint TMJD usually does not affect people with fibromyalgia, though in some cases it can occur. Joint TMJD is caused by measurable damage to the cartilage or ligaments surrounding the temporomandibular joint. This damage can be the result of trauma, dental abnormalities, or tooth clenching.
Joint TMJ symptoms include:
- popping or clicking of the jaw joint
- locking of the jaw (in which you can’t fit more than two fingers in the mouth)
- pain on one side of the jaw joint
Muscular TMJD: Muscular TMJD more commonly affects those with fibromyalgia. This type of TMJD affects the muscles used to chew and move the scalp, face, neck, and shoulders.
Some physicians consider muscular TMJD to be a type of fibromyalgia, although you can get this disorder without being diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
Causes of TMJ may include: sleep deprivation, trauma to the muscles, stress, traumatic events, or problems with neurotransmitters in the brain.
Muscular TMJ Symptoms
- pain on both sides of the jaw joint
- difficulty opening and closing the mouth
There are some symptoms that occasionally accompany TMJD. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should record them and then consult with your health care practitioner.
- pain in the shoulders, back, or neck
- tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- blurred vision or double vision
- vertigo and nausea
- grinding of the teeth
- hearing problems
- pain in front of the ears
Causes of Temporomandibular Joint Disorder
The causes of TMJD are numerous, and depend upon what kind of TMJD you have. Joint TMJD is more commonly caused by trauma to the mouth muscles and temporomandibular joint. It can also be caused by problems with the teeth and gums, abnormal chewing, or grinding of the teeth.
Muscular TMJD has been the subject of recent study. It is thought that muscular TMJD, like fibromyalgia itself, may be caused by a problem with the way the body interprets pain signals. Studies show that differing levels in epinephrine and other chemicals in the body can influence a person’s pain threshold.
Researchers have also isolated three different genes thought to be responsible for changes in pain threshold. Factors including physical and emotional stress have also been indicated as causes of muscular TMJD. However, it is unknown if these factors cause the disorder or merely make the condition worse.
Effects of Temporomandibular Joint Disorder on Fibromyalgia
TMJD can negatively affect the course of your fibromyalgia. Unfortunately, studies show that people who face both fibromyalgia and TMJD tend to have increased pain and suffering. In particular, TMJD tends to make trigger points in the body more sensitive to pain.
Treating Temporomandibular Joint Disorder
If you are suffering from TMJD, you know how painful and frustrating it can be. It is important that you consult with a TMJD specialist in order to get your symptoms diagnosed. Your dentist should be able to give you a referral. This way, you will be able to start effective treatments right away.
The best treatment for TMJD is usually physical therapy, which involves specific exercises for the neck and jaw region. The use of heat, ice, and massage are also recommended.
For serious pain, facial splints or orthotics may be helpful in preventing bruxism and other symptoms. Medications, including muscle relaxants and over-the-counter medications, are also effective ways to reduce TMJD pain.
Alternative therapies are also helpful in treating the symptoms of TMJD. Biofeedback therapy is used by many sufferers to help reduce repetitive movements and to correct poor posture.