Approximately 3 million Americans are thought to suffer from fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by chronic, widespread, musculoskeletal pain. Many with fibromyalgia also experience temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), which causes recurring headaches, jaw pain and other uncomfortable symptoms.

Over the past decade, substantial research has focused on the relationship between chronic pain conditions such as between IBS and TMJ and fibromyalgia and TMJ, often leading to more questions. Does fibromyalgia contribute to TMJ? Are temporomandibular joint disorder and fibromyalgia linked to other chronic pain conditions? While many answers remain to be discovered, a new study aimed to fill in some gaps.

woman suffering from a migraine headache, TMJ

TMJ and Fibromyalgia Pain

Fibromyalgia pain can be felt throughout the body and is often described as a chronic achiness. Although the discomfort associated with TMJ originates in the connective region between the jaw and the skull, it can likewise be felt throughout the face, neck, shoulders, back, arms and hands. Another symptom common among those with TMJ and fibromyalgia is frequent headaches.

Researchers at the University of Sao Paulo recently examined the onset of facial pain and generalized body pain among patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Of particular focus were myofascial pain (discomfort in sensitive muscle points), orofacial pain (discomfort in the jaw joint and associated muscles), mouth-opening limitation (a typical TMJ symptom that can become progressively worse without treatment), and jaw stiffness (another common TMJ indicator).

The Onset of TMJ Symptoms

The study included 53 female patients broken down into two groups: Group A (with a mean age of 47.3 ± 14.2 years old) and the slightly older Group B (with a mean age of 51.33 ± 11.03). Both fibromyalgia and TMJ are slightly more prevalent among women than men.

All of the study participants exhibited TMJ symptoms. Those in Group A reported that the onset of facial pain preceded generalized body pain, while those in Group B experienced generalized body pain prior to facial pain. Interestingly, jaw stiffness was predominant among those in Group A, but mouth-opening limitation occurred at approximately the same rate in both groups; those in Group B reported higher instances of sensations of numbness or burning.

Treating TMJ

This study, like many others probing the coexistence of fibromyalgia and TMJ, leads to more questions. Is age a factor in TMJ and fibromyalgia pain? Can other chronic pain conditions contribute to the onset of temporomandibular joint disorder?

While there is no “cure” for fibromyalgia or TMJ, there are some answers when it comes to TMJ treatment. Many patients find lasting relief from the painful symptoms of TMJ with occasional TENS sessions; TENS is a device that uses a mild electrical current to relax the jaw muscles and allow the jaw to rest in a comfortable, natural position. Other patients benefit from a custom oral appliance (also known as a “bite splint”) to hold the jaw in optimal alignment.

Treatments for the pain associated with fibromyalgia differ greatly from TMJ treatment. If you’re seeking treatment for fibromyalgia but also suffer from headaches, jaw pain and other TMJ symptoms, it’s advisable to consult with a neuromuscular dentist who has experience diagnosing and treating TMJ.

Denver TMJ dentist Dr. Kevin Berry has an extensive record of success helping patients find long-term relief from TMJ pain. To schedule your appointment, please call the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado at (303) 691-0267.