People with TMJ face many problems getting a proper diagnosis for their condition. Sometimes, their TMJ may be misdiagnosed as headaches. Other times, they may even be accused of making it up, or told that their problem is psychological.
But innovations in tracking the chemical pathways involved in TMJ may help with diagnosis of the condition, and, possibly, may even help with finding the right treatment. Now researchers have proposed that elevated dopamine levels may be able to help with TMJ diagnosis.
What Is Dopamine?
Dopamine is one of the major neurotransmitters that your body uses to regulate many chemical pathways. Dopamine is involved in addictive behavior, including drug and alcohol addictions, but it’s also an important stimulant for muscle activity.
Dopamine deficiency contributes to motion disorders like Parkinson’s disease. On the other hand, high dopamine levels from medications can lead to excess muscle activity. Disruption of the dopamine system by antipsychotic medication can even stimulate the jaw muscles so much they dislocate the temporomandibular joints.
It has been proposed that dopamine deficiency might be involved in disorders like fibromyalgia, but this study suggests that elevated dopamine levels might be associated with TMJ.
Measuring Dopamine Levels in TMJ Patients
For this study, researchers assembled 15 TMJ patients who had the condition for an average of about five years and compared them with 15 healthy controls. They took blood samples from all 30 patients and measured the levels of dopamine and serotonin. Samples were taken at 8 am for half the subjects and at 1 pm for the other half to help account for daily cycling of neurotransmitters.
They found that TMJ patients had significantly higher concentrations of dopamine than healthy controls. They also found that dopamine levels correlated with present pain intensity.
What These Results Mean
This research gives good support for the sensitization model of TMJ. If blood dopamine levels are related to jaw pain, headaches, and other TMJ symptoms, it’s likely that part of the problem is that the pain system is dysfunctional and triggers greater pain sensitivity.
The results also highlight the role of psychological stress in promoting TMJ pain. TMJ patients also had elevated levels of perceived stress, which correlated with dopamine levels, present pain, and pain thresholds.
Therefore, it’s likely that successful TMJ treatment requires a multidisciplinary approach, likely utilizing physical and psychological treatments. It likely also requires simultaneous treatment of related conditions like sleep apnea, which can make it hard for people to get regenerative rest.