One of the biggest challenges of getting successful treatment for your TMJ is getting a successful diagnosis. TMJ symptoms often overlap with other conditions, and since many doctors don’t know much about TMJ, they are more likely to put a label on the symptoms that they feel more comfortable with. Since these diagnoses might sound more familiar to you, too, you might accept the diagnosis, too.
However, this doesn’t form a good basis for successful treatment of your condition. It’s important to not simply accept a diagnosis unless it has a good foundation. Two common misdiagnoses we come across frequently are migraines and trigeminal neuralgia. These diagnoses are likely to be TMJ-related, and we can treat them.
Not All Headaches Are Migraines
Migraines are commonly misdiagnosed because people don’t know that not all serious headaches are migraines. Doctors do know better, but the truth is that there is no positive test for migraines. Exams, your symptoms, and medical history are used to suggest that you might have migraines. Sometimes tests are used to rule out other possible explanations of your headaches. When these tests come back negative, you headache may be declared “migraines” because none of the other labels fit.
However, many so-called migraines are actually severe tension headaches. Often, your doctor didn’t consider that you might have tension headaches related to TMJ, which could account for their frequency and severity.
If you’ve been diagnosed with migraines, your doctor will often prescribe migraine medications, which so far have had limited effectiveness and often come with serious side effects. It’s a good idea to consider other diagnoses before you start taking migraine medication, if you aren’t getting good results from medications, or if you can’t tolerate medication side effects.
Note: Sleep apnea is another condition that’s commonly linked with migraines. About 38% of people with migraines are at high risk for sleep apnea. And people who have both migraines and sleep apnea can see their frequency of migraines drop by 92%! If you have migraines, it’s a good idea to get screened for sleep apnea.
Trigeminal Neuralgia Is Rare
Trigeminal neuralgia is nerve pain caused by damage to the trigeminal nerve, which carries sensations between the face (including the jaw muscles) and the brain. This condition is quite rare, and most often occurs in women over the age of 50. It can cause severe facial pain that is either sharp and electric or dull and aching.
Ideally, doctors should eliminate TMJ and related conditions as part of a trigeminal neuralgia diagnosis. However, this isn’t always done, and it’s not unusual for doctors to count on your response to medication to confirm a neuralgia diagnosis.
If you haven’t been tested for TMJ before getting your trigeminal neuralgia diagnosis, it’s best to get evaluated by a dentist with training and experience in treating the condition. In addition to TMJ, some experience pain related to pinching of the auriculotemporal nerve. This branch of the trigeminal nerve can sometimes be pinched as a result of teeth clenching and grinding (bruxism). Bruxism is common in TMJ, but the two aren’t necessarily linked.
If we can identify auriculotemporal nerve impingement, we will usually treat it with trigger point injections (TPI), with an oral appliance to help control bruxism.
Get an Accurate Diagnosis First
Getting an accurate diagnosis is critical to ensuring proper treatment. If you are unsure of a diagnosis, it’s good to get a second opinion. Also, seek out a second opinion before getting treatment that is invasive or irreversible. Finally, don’t persist with a course of treatment that isn’t giving you good results. Get a second opinion.
If you are looking for a second opinion in the Denver area for conditions that could be related to TMJ or sleep apnea, please call (303) 691-0267 today for an appointment with a dentist at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado.