Head pain

Things Aren’t Always What They Seem

Second only to back pain, head pain is the most common problem to drive people to visit their doctor. For people suffering from head pain, the family physician should be consulted first. But, if no cause is found for the pain, examination by the family dentist may get to the root of the problem, according to Wesley E. Shankland, II, DDS., M.S., Ph.D., dentist and director of the TMJ & Facial Pain Center in Columbus, OH.

There are many causes of head pain (also known as orofacial pain), but temporomandibular disorders (TMD) constitute the largest percentage of such cases. One of the most diagnosed disorders is pain in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) or the jaw joint. Symptoms generally mimic migraine and sinus pain.

According to Dr. Shankland, problems with the TMJ may be frequently misdiagnosed because there are additional pain disorders such as Fibromyalgia that mimic and can sometimes include TMJ pain. “Misdiagnosis of TMJ can result in the wrong treatment and little relief,” says Dr. Shankland. “Some doctors, dentists and oral health consumers are unaware of the other orofacial pain disorders that are confused with TMJ all the time.”

Fibromyalgia, a chronic musculoskeletal pain and fatigue disorder for which the cause is unknown, includes but is not limited to pain in the muscles, ligaments and tendons. Statistics show that three to six percent of the American population has symptoms that point to Fibromyalgia. It is estimated that anywhere from six to twelve million people suffer from the devastating effects of this illness.

Both TMJ and Fibromyalgia produce similar painful symptoms in the muscles of the neck, shoulders, back, face and head. Dizziness can also be a symptom. “Many patients suffering with TMJ problems also suffer from Fibromyalgia,” says Dr. Shankland. “In fact, each of these disorders make the other far worse than they’d be alone.”

“Unfortunately, many doctors don’t recognize either TMJ or Fibromyalgia or fail to see the connection of these two pain symptoms,” explains Dr. Shankland. “Often, the dentist is the one type of doctor who may hold the key to recovery for many head pain sufferers.”

“Dentists are trained to evaluate various types of facial and head pain,” says Dr. Shankland. “So it’s a good idea to have a consultation with the family dentist.”

Dr. Wesley Shankland is one of more than 70 clinicians that presented the latest developments in oral health and technology at the Academy of General Dentistry’s 48th annual meeting, July 20-23, 2000, in Toronto.

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Wayne C. Harper, DDS
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