- Oral Health
TMJ Dentist: What You Need to Know
Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) is an affliction causing inflammation and pain of the joint connecting the mandible and the skull. The joints in this area are very complex and thus can be afflicted with many types of problems. There are many causes of TMJ, not limited only to dental issues. Causes include bruxing (grinding teeth), problems with alignment, excessive chewing, joint diseases, accidents, stress, and others; the most common is a "bad bite," which ends up throwing this intricate system out of whack. The symptoms of TMJ are many, and include pain around the jaw, trouble chewing, headache, clicking or grating sound when the mouth is opened and closed, and others. Some dentists believe that there are many undiagnosed cases of TMJ, as diffuse pain around the head and face (like headaches) may not be connected to the temporomandibular joint. Because of the multiplicity of causes and symptoms of the affliction, many different treatment options are available. Some decide to seek out a TMJ dentist. This dentist has experience treating cases of TMJ.
A TMJ dentist is not only qualified to advise patients with issues of general oral health; he or she is also an expert in diagnosing and treating this particular disorder. A TMJ dentist pays close attention to the relationships between the different parts of the face implicated in cases of TMJ: he or she understands the proper functioning of the teeth, jaw, gums, and the associated muscles and ligaments. Thus the treatment of TMJ by such experts, though they are dentists, is not limited to treating the teeth themselves, though that may be an option depending on the particular case. This type of treatment is sometimes called "neuromuscular dentistry," an indication of the breadth of the issue.
If you decide to seek out a TMJ dentist, there are a few things you should know about the process. First, do your research. If you have a dentist whom you see regularly, he or she may also specialize in TMJ cases. If they do not, ask for a referral to a qualified expert. Other options include searching the internet for local TMJ dentists. (Always ask for references or try to find patient reviews!) If you have dental and health insurance, find out beforehand if your treatment will be covered so you'll have no nasty financial surprises.
On the day of your appointment, your TMJ dentist will give you diagnostic tests, including an exam and perhaps x-rays, to confirm the problem. A TMJ dentist will offer a number of treatment options. Some are completed in the office, others are behavioral changes that you can make on your own. Dental procedures include orthodontics (to fix bite issues), grinding teeth down to change the bite pattern (also called "occlusal equilibration"), or surgery in especially serious cases. He or she might suggest other behaviors you can do at home to lessen the discomfort of the disorder. You may have to eat foods that are less harsh on your mouth; gum is particularly problematic for TMJ sufferers. Wearing mouth guards at night will help prevent damage to your teeth from bruxism (teeth grinding). Managing your stress levels will also help prevent extreme clenching of the jaw. There are also exercises you can do to reduce the level of daily discomfort. In the end, it is possible that your TMJ dentist might refer you to other specialists depending on the details of your case. It is important to note that in most cases TMJ cannot be “cured” like antibiotics cure an infection. Instead, treatment is more goal oriented, perhaps geared towards removing pain or allowing the patient to chew normally.
Everyone's case of TMJ is different. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment cocktail. Effectively managing the disorder may require some personal and professional effort, but it is something that can be controlled. In fact, you may feel even better than you could have imagined once the pain and discomfort of TMJ has been successfully reduced.