Why look in the brain for answers to temporomandibular disorder pain?

Eleni Sarlani, Joel D. Greenspan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Scopus citations


Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) patients often exhibit widespread clinical pain, as well as greater sensitivity to experimental pain than pain-free controls, suggesting a role of central pathophysiologic mechanisms in TMD. Moreover, TMD is more prevalent among women, which may be related to the higher sensitivity of women to experimental pain. Women also exhibit greater temporal summation of heat pain compared to men. Temporal summation, the increase in pain intensity upon repetitive noxious stimulation of constant intensity, at a high frequency is centrally mediated. Thus, greater temporal summation in women indicates that their central nociceptive processing is upregulated compared to men. Recent studies in our research center sought further evidence for upregulation of central nociceptive processing in females compared to males and in TMD patients compared to healthy controls, assessing group differences in temporal summation of mechanically evoked pain, and aftersensations following repetitive noxious stimulation. Sixteen series of 10 repetitive, sharp, mechanical stimuli were applied to the fingers of 25 female TMD patients, 25 healthy women, and 25 healthy men, with a computer-controlled small probe. All subjects rated the pain intensity or the unpleasantness evoked by the 1st, 5th and 10th stimulus in the series, and the aftersensations 15 s and 1 min after the last stimulus on visual-analog scales. TMD patients exhibited greater temporal summation of pain and unpleasantness, stronger aftersensations, and more frequent painful aftersensations than controls. Healthy females showed greater temporal summation of pain intensity and unpleasantness, higher intensity and unpleasantness of aftersensations, and more frequent painful aftersensations than males. Greater temporal summation of pain and aftersensations from digital stimulation of TMD patients than controls suggest a generalized hyperexcitability of the central nociceptive system in this patient group. Such hyperexcitability may contribute to the development and/or maintenance of chronic TMD pain. Moreover, greater temporal summation of pain and aftersensations in healthy females than males indicate that their central processing of nociceptive input may be more easily upregulated into pathological hyperexcitability, possibly accounting for the predominance of TMD among women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)69-75
Number of pages7
JournalCells Tissues Organs
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Experimental pain
  • Gender differences
  • Orofacial pain
  • Temporal summation
  • Temporomandibular disorders

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Histology


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