(iVillage Total Health) - Adults with jaw joint pain and who have had the condition since childhood may have benefited from early diagnosis by a dentist. A new Swedish study says if dentists screen adolescent patients for the disorder they may be able to help prevent chronic pain later in life.
"If we find the patients in time, their risk of developing chronic pain as adults declines," researcher Ing-Marie Nilsson said in a press release.
The disorder, called temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, is a group of symptoms that often includes pain in the temporomandibular joint of the jaw. People with TMJ have pain in the jaw joint and surrounding muscles and other soft tissues, headaches, earaches, jaw movement limitations, clicking or popping sounds as the jaw moves and sometimes neck, back or shoulder pain.
TMJ disorder is estimated to affect up to 10 million people in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health. Experts are uncertain what causes TMJ disorder but believe that jaw clenching, trauma, teeth grinding, dental procedures, musculoskeletal problems or arthritis in the jaw may be involved.
Nilsson's research included four studies and was presented as part of her doctoral dissertation at the Faculty of Dentistry at Malmö University College in Sweden. She found that more than 4 percent of Swedish children between the ages of 12 and 19 examined by that country's National Dental Service suffer from TMJ pain. In the study, 1,200 children were identified with jaw pain.
Each was asked two questions: "Do you have pain in the temple, face, jaw, or jaw joint at least once a week?" and "Do you experience pain at least once a week when you open your mouth or chew?" An affirmative answer to one or both of the questions classified the child as having TMJ pain.
The study found that only half of the children who wanted help for their pain were actually offered help. In addition, girls appeared to have the condition more often than boys and the problem increased as children aged.
One of the studies found that 60 percent of the children experienced at least a 50-percent reduction in pain when they used acrylic splints—similar to plastic biteplates that help align the upper and lower jaws or night guards to prevent nighttime teeth grinding.
Nilsson said that teaching younger patients relaxation techniques and other behavior-oriented treatments may help relieve symptoms. Doing so may help them avoid disability as they age.
"It is important to teach them ways to deal with the pain early in life," Nilsson added.
Copyright 2007 iVillage Total Health.