#46 TMD/TMJ Can Greatly Disrupt Your Emotional Health

Last Tuesday I walked into a consultation room to meet a new patient.  As I walked through the door the emotion of anger was palpable.  There were two people in the room, a young man about 30 sitting in the dental chair and a young woman sitting in the corner.  As I introduced myself, I focused on seeing where this emotion originated.  The woman in the corner smiled at me when I asked her name and the gentleman in the dental chair had a frozen face when I said “I’m glad to meet you” without a response.  Now I knew the source. He had a 2-month history of acute ear and jaw pain with no prior symptoms.  So, why was he so angary?

I am used to dealing with patients and their emotions.  As an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon for 46 years I rarely experienced patients without some manner of emotion evoked.  I’m used to it, and pride myself on being able to communicate with patients regardless of the emotion expressed.  The most common emotion I see is pain followed by fear.  I’m not going to spend time explaining why patients express pain and fear in dealing with an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon.  The next most common emotion is grief, followed by sympathy, antagonism, covet hostility, and apathy.

Each of these emotions can and should be handled by the doctor in order to get the job done.  The doctor must stay in communication and a patient’s expressed emotions should be handled smoothly.  It is not uncommon for a patient to start crying when she finds out that I’m the first doctor that understands her problem of 30 years.  I recently documented an older patient who started to cry at the week 3 check appointment when she shared that her symptoms of 20 years were gone.  These were tears of joy generated by losing her symptoms.

Occasionally I see a patient in antagonism because I am the third doctor she has been sent for the same reason.  I had a consultation for a dentist recently who was covertly hostile because he wanted to find out why so many of his colleagues were sending me patients and made-up symptoms to validate the request for consultation. He had a negative exam and I told him he didn’t need anything done.  He looked very surprised when I told him I did not recommend treatment.

I’ve had more than one woman tell me I was her “last hope” with the tone of apathy.  And I’ve had several women sympathetically confess that they have be “bad mothers” because of the constant pain they have endured.

But, the angry patient is especially hard to treat. Have you ever tried to talk to an angry person.  Angry people don’t want to listen. They have already made up their mind and they don’t want to hear what you have to say. That was the situation I found myself in with the patient I noted at the beginning of this article.  My solution was to simply confront his anger with a touch of antagonism in my voice, which is the emotion slightly above anger.   I was a little antagonistic when I asked him if he ever had any of the other symptoms associated with TMD/TMJ.  I then found out he had all the symptoms with constant recurring headaches going back 15 years.  Then I asked him how many doctors he had seen over those 15 years to treat any of these symptoms.  He hesitated, then said “At least 20!”  After that I saw his face brighten over the remaining consultation.  He agreed to treatment, and I fully expect this young man to have life changes once his symptoms subside.  He certainly won’t be angry because no one could fix his symptoms.

In our office I hold a brief staff muster at the end of each day.  On the day described I asked my staff if they noticed anything unusual about the patient in question.  Our receptionist and nurse both commented on how this patient looked angry when he was registered and seated.  And my financial manager thought he acted “pleased” when she discussed payment options.

TMD/TMJ Can Greatly Disrupt Your Emotional Health.

If you find yourself not being yourself, you might want to consider the effects of constant and recurring headache, earache, neck pain, jaw pain, tinnitus, subjective hearing loss, vertigo, arm/hand/finger tingling and numbness, and various kinds of jaw locking on your mental health.

We are here to help.  Schedule a consultation.  You can bring your emotions along.