Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) patients can present clinically significant jaw pain fluctuations which can be debilitating and lead to poor global health. The Graded Chronic Pain Scale evaluates pain-related disability and its dichotomous grading (high/low impact pain) can determine patient care pathways and in general high-impact pain patients have worse treatment outcomes. Individuals with low-impact TMD pain are thought to have better psychosocial functioning, more favorable disease course, and better ability to control pain, while individuals with high-impact pain can present with higher levels of physical and psychological symptoms. Thereby, there is reason to believe that individuals with low- and high-impact TMD pain could experience different pain trajectories over time. Our primary objective was to determine if short-term jaw pain fluctuations serve as a clinical marker for the impact status of TMD pain. To this end, we estimated the association between high/low impact pain status and jaw pain fluctuations over three visits (≤ 21-day-period) in 30 TMD cases. Secondarily, we measured the association between jaw pain intensity and pressure pain thresholds (PPT) over the face and hand, the latter measurements compared to matched pain-free controls (n = 17). Jaw pain fluctuations were more frequent among high-impact pain cases (n = 15) than low-impact pain cases (n = 15) (OR 5.5; 95% CI 1.2, 26.4; p value = 0.033). Jaw pain ratings were not associated with PPT ratings (p value > 0.220), suggesting different mechanisms for clinical versus experimental pain. Results from this proof-of-concept study suggest that targeted treatments to reduce short-term pain fluctuations in high-impact TMD pain is a potential strategy to achieve improved patient perception of clinical pain management outcomes.
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