TMJ is often known as the great imposter because it is often confused with other conditions. In fact, people who present with TMJ symptoms like face pain are often diagnosed with other conditions before they find a neuromuscular dentist who can help give them relief.
However, sometimes your face pain may be something else, and it’s important to have these conditions ruled out to make sure that you are getting the right treatment for your condition.
An abscessed tooth is when the bacteria living in a cavity manage to penetrate into the tooth pulp, and from there spread into your gums and bones. It can result in face pain, jaw pain, or tooth pain. If it’s not treated, you can lose not just your tooth, but bone and multiple other teeth. It can even be fatal.
Nearly 30 million people a year are diagnosed with sinus infections, which is almost certainly only a fraction of the full sufferers. Fortunately, most sinus infections are viral and will pass in about a week or so. If you suspect a sinus infection is causing pain that has lasted more than a week, is accompanied by a high fever, or if you feel severely ill, you should see a doctor.
Trauma can be either an injury or surgery. Sometimes pain lasts longer than expected or can seem to go away and recur. If you think you have pain from surgery or an injury that is lasting long after your doctor said it should be gone, talk to your doctor.
Trigeminal neuralgia is a less common condition, affecting only about 150,000 people a year. It is a disorder of the trigeminal nerve, which runs from your face, past your temporomandibular joint, then into your brain stem. This disorder typically results in pain on one side of the face that is brief and pulsing, with rapidly repeating electric shock-like pain that may persist for seconds or a few minutes. This may recur frequently for weeks, then subsides, although a dull ache persists.
Similar symptoms may be associated with brainstem tumors, MS, or other conditions of the nervous system.
Migraine or Tension Headaches
Many chronic headaches can also result in facial pain. The classic migraine presents with an aura, such as a visual, auditory, or tactile sensation not associated with physical reality that precedes the onset of pain. Cluster headaches are more likely to occur on one side of the head, with deep pain that spreads to the forehead, cheek, and neck. Cluster headaches may recur regularly, then disappear for months or more.
Herpes Zoster (Shingles)
The pain caused by shingles is typically burning or itching. It is accompanied by blisters. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox, but it can infect people who have already had chicken pox. People over age 60 are encouraged to get vaccinated against shingles.
Even after you’ve been treated for shingles, you may continue to experience facial pain for 1-6 months. This is called postherpetic neuralgia, and it is treated with medication.
Other people may experience face pain that has a dubious or hard to locate cause. This is known as idiopathic pain. If we eliminate TMJ as a potential cause for your pain or if TMJ treatment doesn’t work, you may be left with this, somewhat unsatisfying explanation that can sometimes be treated with medication.
If you want to get more information about possible causes and treatments for your face pain, please contact Dental Excellence of Blue Bell for an appointment at our office in Philadelphia, PA.