Oral Cancer and TMD- Coincidence or Correlation?

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There are so many factors involved with TMD (temporomandibular disorder) that it can make one’s head spin. When it comes to analyzing TMJ disorders, there are many factors that need to be examined. One of the first pieces to the puzzle is actually a palpation exam where the dentist presses on the various muscle groups to determine if any are irritated from the TMJ discs. The way it works is that when the discs in the jaw joints are displaced, this causes a pull on the muscles in that area, causing discomfort. Then, when the muscles are palpated, they basically hurt. This helps in understanding how serious the problem is. The other diagnostic tool needed is to have a really good MRI of the potentially displaced discs and how badly they are displaced. If the discs are slipped forward (anterior displacement), then this is much easier to work with than if they are laterally or medially slipped. These displacements are by far more difficult to fix because the discs can get jammed down into the tissue and it now becomes very difficult for them to get back into proper position. The problem with displaced discs is that they will quite literally ‘pinch’ blood vessels and nerves in and around the joints. This can, and will, lead to lots of pain that will reduce your ability to sleep well.

Why is sleep important? When the body does not sleep well, it is far more likely that disease processes can begin. As anyone knows, when your body is just tired all the time, it is far more likely you will catch the flu and infections are far more likely to set in. This is the case with cancer as well. When your body is debilitated from lack of sleep it is easier for cancer to set in.  There is now plenty of research to support this. If you simply Google ‘cancer from sleep apnea’ you will find that with moderate to severe sleep apnea, you are two and a half times more likely to develop cancer and three times more likely to die from cancer. This is a serious statement. What this means is that if you are not sleeping well, you are far more likely to contract kidney cancer, melanoma, breast cancer, and uterine cancer. Even though the risk of lung or colorectal cancers is less, it is just not worth the risk when you do not sleep well. TMJ disorder affects not only your joints but impacts the quality of sleep. A confirmation from UVA hospital’s research is that good sleep has been confirmed to be key to good health. With good sleep, the lymphatic system is regulated, and in turn, helps regulates many immune systems.

So, what is the message of this little blog? The message is to pay attention to your body. If the jaw joints are causing pain – headaches, neck or back pain, or even dizziness and tremors – then pay attention and have it looked at by someone who understands the situation. And this has now opened up another proverbial can of worms: Who do I see? TMJ disorder is so poorly understood that there is no consistency in diagnosis or treatment. So please stay tuned as the next blog will delve into the devious world of diagnosis and treatment.