If you don’t have TMJ, it can be hard to appreciate what sufferers are going through. Jaw pain, headaches, neck pain, earache, and other symptoms may not seem like a major burden. But the truth is that people with TMJ are seriously suffering. And the inability for doctors, employers, coworkers, and family members to understand their pain makes it even worse.

But perhaps new data will help people understand that the pain associated with TMJ is different from other pain. That is in part because facial pain is wired differently, feeding directly into the body’s emotional network, while other pain has to take a secondary route. This helps explain why TMJ, migraine, and other pain conditions affecting the head and face can be so impactful, and shows why it’s critical to find the right treatment.

Why Face Pain Is Emotional Pain

A Direct Link to Your Emotions

We’ve long known that people with head and face report greater fear and suffering associated with their pain. But it isn’t just that people say they have more fear: functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) confirms that the emotional centers of the brain are more active when people experience headaches than when they have other types of pain. This has real-world consequences: people with migraines report more disability related to their pain than other chronic pain sufferers.

To try to explain why this is the case, researchers investigated how pain signals move to and through the brain. They thought the cause might be that facial nerves were more sensitive, which, they thought, might explain why trigeminal neuralgia was more common than that affecting any other nerve.

To test the wiring, they irritated mice, either in the face or on a paw and gauged how the signals were passed. They found that when the face was irritated, it led to higher excitement in the parabrachial nucleus (PBL), which is wired directly to the brain’s emotional centers.

They found that the excitement is increased because the facial nerves are wired directly into the PBL. But pain from other parts of the body has to take a roundabout route to the PBL, diminishing their impact.

We Can Help Deal with Facial Pain

Duke researchers hope that their findings will make it easier for doctors to treat the emotional dimension of facial pain in the future. In the meantime, the findings at least help us to be more sympathetic and proactive in treatment.

The best way to control the emotional impact of head and face pain is to control the pain. Fortunately, TMJ treatment can do just that, combating many sources of pain in the head, including jaw pain, face pain, headaches, earaches, and more.

If you’re looking for help dealing with any TMJ-related pain in River Edge, please call 201-546-8512 today for an appointment with a TMJ dentist at the River Edge Dental Center for TMJ, Sleep Apnea, & Reconstructive Dentistry.