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Genetics May Play a Factor in Oral and Facial Pain

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJD) is the most common cause of oral and facial pain, affecting more than 10 million Americans. A study released July 17, 2016 identified the TRPV4 gene as the source of nerve activity that causes increased sensitivity to temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain. Dr. Stefania Caracioni is a dentist who specializes in treating patients with TMJD.

TRPV4 is a transient receptor potential cation channel that can send pain signals to the brain when stimulated. Factors that can trigger these nerve pathways include sensitivity to calcium and mechanical activation from chewing motions. Earlier studies conducted on mice found that mice that had been genetically engineered not to have the TRPV4 genes were significantly less pain sensitive to damage to their TMJ. In other words, the mice that lacked the gene could sustain significantly more trauma or injury to their TMJ without experiencing pain.

Studies like this could lead to great advances in the way that doctors and dentists help patients deal with TMJD pain. TMJD patients often have long histories of chronic migraine, and understanding the way these genes and the nerves they influence are impacted could lead to new therapies and treatment protocols.

In the meantime, the current standard of care for TMJD is Oral Appliance Therapy. Dr. Caracioni can take impressions of your jaw, and x-rays to examine how the set of your jaw at rest is affecting the alignment of your TMJ.

When the TMJ is not properly aligned, it can set off a domino effect of mal-aligned vertebrae in the neck and down the spine, causing excess strain on the musculoskeletal system and negatively impacting your overall posture and health. Once Dr. Caracioni has created a 3D model of your jaw, she can use computer modeling to design an oral appliance that fits over the bottom teeth to fill the negative space and realign your TMJ properly. The relief at first may seem small, but over time, TMJD patients using oral appliances report significantly less head pain, neck pain, and back pain.

To schedule a consultation about TMJD and treatment options, contact our office at 785-783-0741.