adult at dentist holding his jaw in painOne of the problems people experience with reporting jaw pain and getting effective TMJ treatment is that doctors and others often dismiss their pain as being “all in their head.” Now new imaging techniques will be able to show that the pain is in their head, but, far from being imaginary, it’s all too real.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a remarkable technique that allows doctors to visualize brain activity, has now been used to identify brain activity that shows when people are experiencing pain.

What Is fMRI?

fMRI is a technique for measuring brain activity in certain regions of the brain. It works by measuring the amount of oxygen being used by regions of your brain. When your brain activates, it demands more oxygen, which leads to an initial decline in the oxygen saturation of the blood. Within a few seconds, though, blood flow has increased to compensate, which leads blood oxygenation to normalize. When the area stops demanding more blood, oxygen saturation increases. This effectively allows researchers to see when regions in your brain are turning on (but not necessarily when they’re tuning in or dropping out).

The Current Study

In this study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in April, researchers looked at the brains of 114 individuals in four studies and found fMRI could:

  • Distinguish painful heat from mere warmth, anticipation, and pain recall  94% of the time
  • Distinguish painful heat from mere warmth 93% of the time, confirming the first study
  • Distinguish between physical and social pain 85% of the time
  • Correlated to drug reduction of pain 95% of the time

Researchers hope that this study represents a new direction in the treatment of chronic pain. It will allow doctors to actually diagnose patients’ chronic pain, rather than treat patients with skepticism or simply rely on subjective reports of pain.

Getting Effective Pain Treatment Today

Although this study is promising, truly objective measurement of jaw pain and other TMJ-related pain is a long way off. Until it becomes a reality, it’s important to select a doctor who will truly listen to your description of symptoms and try to get you effective treatment.

At Collins Dentistry & Aesthetics, our dentists understand how important it is to listen to their patients. They will give you the time to describe your symptoms fully and will respond with treatment designed to give you full relief.

To schedule an appointment at our Spokane or Spokane Valley office, please contact Collins Dentistry & Aesthetics today.