TMJ has a baffling ability to cause a wide range of symptoms throughout the body. TMJ not only causes problems like jaw pain, migraines, and neck pain, but it’s linked to many chronic pain conditions. With conditions like fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) people can literally suffer from head to toe because of TMJ.

Now researchers think they might know why. New research exposes important links between these chronic conditions. It also shows that TMJ might trigger these other pain conditions. If true, that would mean that treating TMJ early could head off development of other types of chronic pain. 

young woman suffering from TMJ, jaw pain

Signals That Go Both Ways

At Missouri State University, researchers looking at orofacial pain (pain in the mouth and face) focused on calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), an inflammatory protein. They found that CGRP, released by an irritated trigeminal nerve, can also make the trigeminal nerve more susceptible to irritation.

CGRP has recently gained significant attention for what seems to be a key role in the process of migraines. This protein seems to set off the chain reaction of inflammation that results in crippling pain. In fact, CGRP inhibitors are the latest, most promising class of migraine medications

But researchers have found that spinal CGRP levels are important, too. It turns out that the levels of CGRP in your spine can make your trigeminal nerve more sensitive, which then increases your risk of migraines.

With this type of bidirectional signaling going on, it’s no wonder that many people experience migraines repeatedly, as each migraine “primes the pump” for future migraine attacks. Meanwhile, the spinal cord can serve to conduct elevated CGRP levels throughout the body, causing other painful inflammatory conditions.

A Key Role for TMJ

As researchers have looked at the link between these chronic pain conditions, it has become clear that TMJ could play an important role in setting off a number of chronic pain conditions in the body. When jaw muscles and joints become tense, irritated, and inflamed, they release CGRP and other inflammatory compounds, which can then spread through the body contributing to the risk of other chronic pain conditions.

More importantly, this work has shown that blocking elevated levels of these inflammatory compounds in TMJ can break the chain of inflammation and inhibit the development of other chronic pain disorders.

This shows again that TMJ treatment has the potential to have far-ranging positive effects on your body. It gives us the ability to reduce pain risks related to other conditions. As our knowledge of TMJ increases, we gain a broader understanding of the benefits of TMJ treatment.

Chronic Pain Depression Could Be Linked, Too

While this study didn’t look into the possible link between these conditions and depression, there is likely a strong connection here. Up to 85% of patients with chronic pain also suffer chronic pain depression. This means that if TMJ contributes to the development of more chronic pain, it could also contribute to the risk of chronic pain depression. 

If you know someone with chronic pain (including yourself), you should watch for signs of depression, including:

  • Trouble concentrating
  • Indecision
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and hopelessness
  • Insomnia, including early-morning wakefulness
  • Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Changes in appetite
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

If you see these signs of depression, you should talk to your doctor. Although depression can make your chronic pain more severe, chronic pain doesn’t have to be severe to lead to depression. 

However, in addition to chronic pain, depression is also linked to sleep apnea. Since most people with TMJ (75%) also experience some degree of sleep apnea, this could be another potential link between TMJ and depression. 

Pay Attention to TMJ Symptoms

This research makes it even more important to respond to TMJ symptoms when they first appear. Treating TMJ symptoms early could prevent not just chronic pain TMD/TMJ, but could prevent other types of chronic pain. Seek treatment if you experience TMJ symptoms like:

  • Headaches
  • Tooth damage and tooth wear
  • Jaw clicking or popping
  • Irregular or restricted jaw motion
  • Jaw pain, including chronic pain TMD/TMJ
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Ear pain
  • Face and neck chronic pain
  • Shoulder and back chronic pain
  • Tingling and numbness in the face, neck, jaw, arms, or fingers

If you experience these TMJ symptoms, it’s time to talk to a TMJ dentist and get a comprehensive evaluation to diagnose TMJ. 

Head Off Chronic Pain with TMJ Treatment in Rochester Hills, MI

Mechanisms like CGRP can link multiple chronic pain conditions. Once you develop one type of chronic pain, like TMJ, treatment can protect you from developing others. When you experience TMJ symptoms, talk to a TMJ dentist before the symptoms worsen and trigger other types of chronic pain.

If you want to learn how TMJ treatment could benefit you, please call (248) 480-0085 for an appointment with a Detroit TMJ dentist at the Michigan Center for TMJ & Sleep Wellness.