Dentists and doctors are still human, and sometimes mistakes can occur despite their best efforts. Many dental conditions present with similar symptoms. If a patient has multiple complaints, such as swelling, infection, and pain together, diagnosis of underlying causes becomes difficult. Learning about your diagnosis is key. It never hurts for patients to receive a second opinion.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ)
This joint is hinge-like and attaches your jaw to your skull, and you have one on each side of your head. Causes vary, but arthritis, injury, and genetics can all play a role. TMJ causes many symptoms, including pain in your jaw, the joint itself, pain that radiates from your inner ear, and facial pain. You may have difficulty chewing or have pain while chewing. In some cases, your jaw will lock.
Cutaneous Odontogenic Fistula
When an infection originates from the mandibular molars, it can travel through the sinus tract and present as a skin lesion. Other doctors and specialists fail to diagnose it as a dental issue, but the condition can be difficult to diagnose, as patients tend to have zero dental symptoms. MRI and dental x-rays generally show the infection.
Your maxillary sinus is the largest and in close proximity to your maxillary teeth. It allows infections to spread easily from your teeth (abscess) to your sinus. Symptoms mimic a sinus infection, including sinus headache, nasal discharge, and fever. Your sinuses may show signs of tenderness and pain to touch or swell.
Cracked Tooth Syndrome (CTS)
Dentists often misdiagnose CTS as temporomandibular disorder, headaches, ear pain, sinusitis, or facial pain. The cause, however, are small cracks in the tooth that x-rays miss. Dentists use a multitude of testing, which ranges from x-rays to special bite tests, in their diagnosis. A patient may go through several wrong diagnoses first because the associated pain presents like other conditions. The patient may also have secondary conditions with CTS being its underlying cause. Causes for TSC vary, but previous injury, hard foods such as popcorn kernels, and genetics can play a role.
Misdiagnosis and missed diagnosis aren’t always the dentist’s fault. Often adults and children only see the dentist when a problem or pain starts. If you have an active infection, your dentist will treat it before looking deeper because that is most important. It’s up to patients to keep up with their dental health by getting routine cleanings and dental checkups.