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Managing referred pain

11 December 2023

Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) can have a considerable impact on many aspects of patients’ health. For some patients, this might include eye pain. In fact, research found that 78% of TMD patients experienced eye pain.[i]

Patients may complain of a stabbing sensation behind the eyes, as well as swelling and twitching. These symptoms can affect concentration, and be difficult to relieve.

Finding the cause

Those struggling with eye pain must, of course, seek the advice of their doctor or an eye care professional. However, if they rule out other causes, it is likely that the pain is related to the jaw joint.

Dentists should explain the role of the jaw joints, and assess whether patients may also be experiencing other symptoms of TMD. Sometimes, the condition can cause referred pain behind the eyes and around the eyebrow through the trigeminal nerve.[ii]

Jaw joints are complex, and responsible for a number of essential daily functions like eating and speaking. The joint consists of a ball and socket joint as well as a sliding joint, allowing for a wide range of motions.

What are the symptoms?

Other symptoms of TMD may include:

  • Migraines
  • Neck pain
  • Jaw pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Snoring
  • Sleep apnoea

If patients are exhibiting these additional symptoms, it is likely that their eye pain is linked to the condition.

TMD and eye pain

The trigeminal nerve runs alongside the jaw joints, leading to the teeth, jaw muscles, as well as the sinuses. As such, this can cause issues around and behind the eyes. This is because the nerve is responsible for transferring information about friction to the brain, which means that some patients will feel pain behind the eyes, and sometimes experience swelling and twitching too. While this pain is felt behind the eye, it actually comes from elsewhere.[iii]

Other facial pain brought on by TMD is usually muscular, caused by the facial muscles straining. Because of this, it can be difficult to locate the source of facial pain in TMD patients. But, by offering tailored advice which targets the TMD itself, you’ll likely help patients reduce the intensity of their symptoms.

[i] Effat, Kamal G. “Eye pain in patients with arthrogenous versus myogenous temporomandibular disorder presenting to an otolaryngology clinic.” J ENT Care Otolaryngol Res 2.1 (2020): 1002.




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