Most people know that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition triggered by a traumatic event and associated with flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety. However, what many people fail to realize is that PTSD is linked to a number of physical ailments—including temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder.
How TMJ Disorder Is Related to PTSD
The temporomandibular joint acts as a sliding hinge to connect your jawbone to your skull. It allows for the opening and closing of your mouth, as well as the front-to-back and side-to-side motions that are associated with chewing food. When a person suffers from TMJ disorder, they experience pain in the joint or in the muscles surrounding the temporomandibular joint. They often have decreased mobility in the jaw and hear a distinctive clicking sound when opening or closing their mouth. The condition is not life-threatening, but it can have a significant impact on a person’s daily activities if the pain interferes with their ability to eat, sleep, work, and socialize.
The cause of TMJ disorder isn’t always known, but research has shown a strong link between PTSD and temporomandibular joint dysfunction. Someone with PTSD is operating in a constant “fight or flight” mode. They anticipate danger at every turn, and their body responds accordingly. For some people, this means bracing the jaw muscles or clenching the teeth for extended periods of time. This unconscious action, combined with the inflammation caused by the release of cortisol and other stress hormones, is thought to be one potential cause of TMJ pain.
Treating PTSD and TMJ disorder can be a challenge, but a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy, meditation, breathing exercises, and antidepressant medication can be helpful. Patients need to learn healthy ways to cope with stress and process their past trauma while working to reduce behaviors such as jaw bracing, tooth contact, and breath-holding that are linked to increased TMJ pain. In some cases, surgical treatment can help alleviate TMJ pain.
Maximize Your Compensation by Considering All of Your Secondary Service-Connected Disabilities
If you’re currently being treated for PTSD related to your military service, it’s vital that you pursue a secondary service connection for any ailment related to your condition. A secondary service connection is appropriate for any condition caused or aggravated by a disability that has received a direct service connection. This includes TMJ disorder as well as conditions caused by dysfunction in the temporomandibular joint, such as tinnitus, hearing loss, bruxism, headaches, and neck pain.
The VA evaluates Veterans with TMJ disorder under 38 CFR § 4.150, Schedule of Ratings – Dental and Oral Conditions, Diagnostic Code 9905. VA disability ratings for TMJ disorder depend on the severity of the condition. Some general points to keep in mind include:
- The painful motion principle used to evaluate applications for disability benefits states pain in the movement of a joint should receive a 10% rating, even if there is no functional loss or loss of range of motion associated with this pain.
- The VA measures a Veteran’s maximum unassisted vertical opening of the mouth. Veterans with 0 to 10 millimeters (mm) of maximum unassisted vertical opening qualify for ratings of up to 50%, while 11 to 29 mm of maximum unassisted vertical opening qualifies for a maximum rating of up to 40%, and 30 to 34 mm of maximum unassisted vertical opening qualifies for a rating of up to 30%. (As a point of reference, a normal human jaw has a maximum unassisted range of vertical opening from 35 to 50 mm.)
- Dietary restrictions of either soft and semi-solid foods or full liquid and pureed foods result in the highest disability ratings for a particular range of motion category.
Getting Help With Your Disability Application
If you believe your application for VA disability benefits for PTSD and TMJ has been unfairly denied, you should contact a Veterans benefits attorney as soon as possible. The office of Sean Kendall, Attorney-at-Law, has over 20 years of experience helping Veterans access their VA disability benefits. Contact our office today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation.