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 Blue Bell neuromuscular dentist who can help give them relief.

However, sometimes your face pain may be something else. That’s why it’s important to have these conditions ruled out to make sure that you are getting the right treatment for your condition.

woman sitting on her couch with jaw pain

Abscessed Tooth

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 facial 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.

Sinus Infection

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

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. If you’re finding it difficult to understand the difference between trigeminal neuralgia vs TMJ, we encourage you to look at the symptoms associated with TMJ such as frequent headaches and migraines, clogged ears, ringing in the ears, and dizziness. TMJ pain isn’t as severe or sporadic as pain associated with trigeminal neuralgia.

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 are caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, but it can infect people who have already had chickenpox. People over age 60 are encouraged to get vaccinated against shingles.

Postherpetic Neuralgia

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.

Idiopathic Pain

Other people may experience facial 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, a somewhat unsatisfying explanation that can sometimes be treated with medication.

woman sitting on her bed with jaw pain

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

If your facial pain isn’t due to any of the conditions listed above, then it’s likely caused by TMJ disorder. Common symptoms of TMJ disorder include:

  • Facial, jaw, back, shoulder, and neck pain
  • Frequent headaches or migraines
  • Facial swelling
  • Uncomfortable bite
  • Locked jaw
  • Clicking or popping noise when opening/closing mouth
  • Ringing in ear
  • Clogged/muffled hearing
  • Worn teeth
  • Toothaches

TMJ disorders are a result of an imbalance of the jaw joints. When there is an imbalance, it causes the muscles surrounding the jaw to try and correct themselves. As a result, the muscles become strained and sore in the process. This then leads to all of the painful TMJ nerve damage symptoms. In some cases, patients may only experience TMJ pain on one side due to the imbalance.

To treat TMJ disorders, Dr. Siegel first completes a comprehensive exam where he examines your bite, muscles, jaw position, and much more. Using CBCT technology, he will take images to determine the exact shape, position, and bone density in the joint. With all the information gathered, Dr. Siegel will create a custom treatment plan that may involve the use of an oral splint, orthodontics, TENS, laser therapy, restorative dentistry, and much more.

With treatment, you can expect to find relief from facial pain and the other symptoms of TMJ disorders.

Get Facial Pain Treatment in Blue Bell

If you want to get more information about possible causes and treatments for your face pain, please contact Dental Excellence of Blue Bell at (610) 272-0828 for an appointment at our office in Philadelphia, PA.