Background. With the advent of magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, clinicians and researchers have sophisticated techniques by which to assess the anatomy of the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ. Imaging is indicated when the results will affect the patient's care beyond that which can be gained from a complete clinical assessment. One of the primary indications for treatment of patients with temporomandibular disorders, or TMDs, is jaw pain, including TMJ pain. Therefore, it is necessary to assess whether MRI-depicted TMJ findings are associated with TMJ pain. This study assessed the relationship between TMJ pain and clinical and MRI findings. Methods. Subjects consisted of 85 patients with unilateral jaw pain in the area of the TMJ. The contralateral, nonpainful TMJ served as the matched control. All patients underwent a complete stomatognathic examination that included palpation of both TMJs. No care was given and no anti-inflammatory medications were prescribed until bilateral MRIs were obtained within one week. Results. The authors found significant relationships between the side of reported jaw pain and the patient's report that palpation of the TMJ was painful and between the side of reported pain and the presence of MRI-detected effusions. The authors found no relationship between the side of reported pain and the presence of a disk displacement, or DD, or between the presence of effusions and DD on either side of the jaw. Conclusion. Although MRI-depicted effusions of the TMJ were associated with reports of TMJ pain, there was a high level of false-positive and false-negative findings. The results indicate that palpation of the TMJ is more accurate than MRI-depicted effusions in identifying the TMJ as the source of pain for patients with unilateral jaw pain. Clinical Implications. The results of this study suggest that palpation of the TMJ is superior to MRI in identifying the joint as the source of pain. Therefore, the most cost-effective and valid test to determine if the TMJ is a source of jaw pain is a complete clinical assessment.
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