We Work Together with Other Specialists
So what exactly does seeing a TMJ specialist entail? And what is the benefit of seeing a TMJ specialist vs just seeing a dentist? Well, first, you should have a background on the role of each.
What is the Role of a TMJ specialist?
TMJ specialists fully assess patients’ situations and come up with solutions to their problems. The specialists use their experience and training to do so alongside advanced technology that other physicians may not have access to or are not entirely trained to use. For example, many doctors and dentists are not trained to take an MRI of your jaw when treating TMJ pain. While it is not always necessary, it can be essential in finding what needs to be fixed. Without knowing how or when this step is necessary can alter your entire experience and may cost you more money and pain, without ever getting your actual issue solved.
What is the Role of a Dentist/Primary Care Physician?
Your dentist’s role is to promote oral health. They monitor the effectiveness and safety of your oral care. They also interpret data, X-rays, and tests to ensure your safety. After inspection, if they detect oral diseases, they can then treat you with routine procedures such as tooth extraction or cavity fillings. They may not always be able to help you on their own, however. In that case, they would refer you to someone with more expertise, such as an orthodontist, oral surgeon, or, of course, a TMJ or jaw specialist.
Your primary care physician, on the other hand, is responsible for regularly monitoring your overall health. They can specialize in specific areas such as pediatrics or internal medicine, but all primary care physicians are responsible for monitoring and treating your medical conditions as they arise to keep them from progressing and getting worse. One trait they hold in common with dentists is that they, too, do not always have the ability to treat your symptoms alone; therefore, they may refer you to someone like a cardiologist or neurologist.
After referral, your doctor or dentist can then supply the new TMJ specialist with your past and current records to help them figure out what’s going on. At PRECiDENT, we work alongside that doctor or dentist rather than independently. This team approach will help everyone involved better figure out the cause of your issues. We all want you to get better as effectively and as soon as possible!
TMJ Disorders are Complex
The complexity of the TMJ runs deeper than its unique size and shape within each person. There are several issues that can arise from a damaged TMJ, and the causes of those issues vary. Symptoms can include the following:
- Jaw pain or tenderness
- Aches in or near the ear
- Difficulty or pain while chewing
- Head, face, and/or neck pain
- Locked joint(s)–difficulty or inability to open, close, or move your mouth from side to side
- Jaw clicking or popping
- Cracked or squeaky teeth
Misdiagnosis and Underlying Causes
A lot of times, TMJ disorders go untreated because people think the issue is with something else. This most commonly occurs with ear pain. People can go months to years thinking their ear pain is caused by ear problems when it’s really caused by their TMJ. Pursuing treatment for the wrong issue can cause the real one to go untreated, leading to even more or worse problems.
On the other hand, you could correctly be diagnosed with a TMJ disorder but only be treated for the symptoms rather than the underlying cause. This commonly occurs with patients who experience stress or sleep apnea because additional measures were not taken to figure out the reason behind the symptoms. Some other causes that could also be overlooked include injury to another part of the body (causing referred pain–pain experienced in one part of the body after an injury that damaged a completely different part), tumors, breathing problems, arthritis, and even poor posture.
Types of Injury
In addition to various symptoms and causes of your pain, there can also be different types of injuries within the confinement of such a small joint. These types of injuries can involve any of the following areas: your cartilage, ligaments, or bones. The type of injury can determine both the severity of the issue as well as the type of procedure necessary for it. For example, if your cartilage displaces, your jaw then starts to rely solely on the ligament, which causes bone-to-bone contact, and this can be quite painful. It would also require surgery because there’s no way to move the cartilage back into place otherwise. In this case, without surgery, we would simply be treating symptoms rather than the sole issue.
With all this said, the jaw joint is such a complex system, it takes a specialized eye and thorough diagnosis for someone to truly discover what’s causing your pain. Not all doctors and dentists have this level of training. While they may know a little about TMJ disorders, they don’t always have the full knowledge or experience to deal with them on their own. If you have severe TMJ pain, you need to speak with a TMJ specialist in addition to whoever you are currently seeing. They will be able to better and more fully assess the situation while working with your current provider to come up with a solution to your problem.
Levels of Treatment
Because of the complexity of the TMJ, there are several levels of treatment, which include the following:
such as eating softer foods and avoiding chewy ones, applying ice or heat, occasionally massaging the jaw muscles, etc.
A custom bite splint, or mouthguard…
which acts as a cushion piece for your mouth to prevent further damage, adjust a faulty bite, reduce muscle spasms or pain, or prevent your jaw from locking up, clicking, or popping.
A final treatment option is surgery, but this is typically used as a last resort and depends considerably on the cause and severity of your TMJ disorder. One type of surgery we perform is called TMJ arthroplasty. It provides you with a disc replacement after a ligament is torn. Another type is called a total joint prosthesis. It replaces the jaw bone and disc with an artificial one. It is typically needed for those with degenerative joint disease and is only performed by select surgeons; there are only about 50-100 surgeons that perform in the entire world.
- If you need surgery for your TMJ disorder, make sure to see someone who does your specific surgery frequently. You want them to have extensive experience for your own safety so you don’t get injured or worsen your problems.
- Here are a few suggestions to ask your surgeon before using their services…
- How many surgeries do you perform each year of this specific type?
- How frequently do you perform this surgery?
- What are the frequent results and outcomes of this surgery?
- Can I talk to other patients who have done this before, or do you have any testimonies available?
Go Early, and Go Somewhere You Can Trust
You will want to go to someone who has a full understanding of both surgical and nonsurgical options and who has the tools to treat you properly in either case. At PRECiDENT, we manage injuries both surgically and nonsurgically; we have the proper imaging and understanding of the dynamics involved in both types of treatment. Some say surgery is the only option no matter what, but just like many other parts of your body, this is simply not true. If managed properly, your TMJ could potentially be treated in a non-surgical approach. For example, with mild knee injuries, you wouldn’t want to go straight into surgery without trying physical therapy or a knee brace first. Why would you want to go through all that if you don’t have to?
Additionally, the earlier you receive treatment, the better–it could potentially keep you from needing surgery in the future; initially, you may have a small issue, but over time, it could develop into something worse. So it’s important to at least contact a TMJ specialist or have one look at your TMJ to ensure you’re getting the proper treatment for your problems. If just one side stops functioning correctly, the other cannot do its job, either; both sides work together to open, close, and move your jaw from side to side, so once one side messes, up, the other simply cannot accommodate for the other.