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Relieving the pain of TMJ
TMJ/TMD sufferers should see a specialist for pain relief


July 2015

Laurie Friedrich of Wauwatosa knows all too well the pain associated with temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD, TMJ). She suffered in agony for decades, not knowing the root cause of her discomfort.

Most often people associate TMJ issues with the clicking or popping noise in the jawbone, limited ability to open the jaw, or extreme orofacial pain, which can also include headaches and neck pain. While any one of these symptoms could lead to a TMD diagnosis, this debilitating condition is actually quite complex and can be long lasting if not properly evaluated and treated by someone who knows what to look for.

"I was sent to chiropractors and orthopedic doctors. You name it, I saw someone like that," says Friedrich.

For more than 20 years she suffered unnecessarily because no one quite knew what was causing her excruciating pain. It wasn’t until years later when her dentist referred her to a specialist that she received the proper treatment, which finally eased her pain.

"The tension in my muscles caused my jawbone to be pushed up into my ear so I couldn’t hear very well," says Friedrich. Treatment for her included relaxing those muscles, and she’s been pain-free ever since.

According to Dr. Jay Mackman, who founded the TMJ and Orofacial Pain Treatment Centers of Wisconsin in 1982, more than half of the TMD suffers are women between the ages of 20 and 50, although senior citizens and children are also commonly diagnosed with the disorder.

"A lot of people suffer from TMD," says Mackman.

While the exact cause of the disorder is unknown, there are an array of factors that can lead to TMD, such as genetics, facial trauma, biting or chewing on the lip, tongue thrusts, post-surgery complications or sports injuries. According to Mackman, those who clench and grind their teeth can aggravate or perpetuate the disorder and in many cases must then be treated with an oral appliance (splint) or month guard for several months.

Terrie Crowley is the president and co-founder of The TMJ Association located in Milwaukee. She talks with patients and doctors from all over the country and has done extensive research on the topic, providing information and support to those who suffer from the disorder. She believes there’s a consensus now as to how patients and doctors should proceed.

"The most conservative treatments that do not invade the tissues of the face, jaw or joint or involve surgery are recommended," says Crowley.

This wasn’t always the case years ago. Some patients would undergo dozens of surgeries and procedures on their face or have their teeth realigned, only to be worse off than before.

The best advice from Mackman for those who are suffering from pain is to find a dentist who specializes in the treatment of TMD so a proper diagnosis can be made.


This story ran in the July 2015 issue of: