If you are experiencing jaw pain, earaches, and frequent headaches, you may be one of the millions of Americans who suffer from TMJ disorders. TMJ disorders happen when your jaw joint, otherwise known as the temporomandibular joint, is damaged or misaligned. TMJ disorders can happen for a number of reasons including injury, arthritis, stress, and even poor posture. The symptoms that come with TMJ disorders can be frustrating and make it hard to enjoy life. If you’ve already spoken to your doctor, they possibly have prescribed pain killers and a bite brace. They may have told you to try to avoid any sources of stress. And even though you’ve followed their instructions exactly, you’re still in pain. In fact, your symptoms are getting worse. But, you keep on trying to manage the pain in the hope that you’ll find relief.
Unfortunately, many TMJ patients are stuck simply managing their pain with pain killers and bite braces due to an inability to reach a complete diagnosis. Diagnosing TMJ disorders can be challenging. The jaw joint is a very complex system. Taking a comprehensive, orthopedic approach to diagnosing TMJ disorders gives us the opportunity to get a full understanding of what is going on in the joint. When we know what’s going on in the joint, we can offer effective treatment options that actually help you find relief.
An Orthopedic Approach to Diagnosing TMJ Disorders
An orthopedic approach involves fully evaluating every aspect of the jaw joint area in order to get the most accurate diagnosis possible. This is the same way problems with other joints are managed. If you were experiencing knee pain, for example, your doctor would not only feel your knee, they would also take several scans so they would be able to see exactly what is going on. Only then would they offer treatments based on their diagnosis.
We need to approach TMJ disorders the same way. Even though the jaw joint may have some differences from other joints in the body, it is still a joint. It’s susceptible to the same diseases and damage as other joints in the body.
The Anatomy of the TMJ Effects How We Diagnose TMJ Disorders
An important part of an orthopedic approach is understanding the anatomy of the joint. Having a thorough understanding of the anatomy of the TMJ allows us to find the cause of pain more easily. When we know how the joint is built and how it works we can deliver a more accurate diagnosis.
The TMJ is a synovial joint, joining your lower jaw to your skull. The joint is covered by cartilage and joined together by a fibrous tissue capsule that encloses the joint cavity. Within the joint, between the jaw and skull, is a cushion called a disc. The disc contains synovial fluid which lubricates and supplies nutrients to the joint, allowing for a greater degree of movement and health of the bone.
The jaw joint is also made up of ligaments, tendons, and muscles, just like other joints in the body, which help provide necessary stability to the movable joint. TMJ disorders may be a result of damage to the disc, the ligaments, and tendons, or even the bone of the jaw, where it attaches to the skull (condyle). Your TMJ specialist at PRECiDENT will be able to see, through a thorough examination, just which part of your TMJ is causing your issues.
How We Diagnose TMJ Disorders
Patients that come to see us for TMJ disorders will go through a full, comprehensive evaluation. We examine every aspect of the jaw joint area. When we’re evaluating you for TMJ disorders we’re not just looking at the joint itself. We want to look at the whole system. We’re asking questions like:
- What do the ligaments look like?
- What do the muscles look like?
- How is your joint moving?
- Is your bite being affected?
- How does the airway work?
- How is all of this affecting the neck?
When you come to PRECiDENT to treat TMJ disorders, you’ll spend 3-4 hours just getting the diagnostic work done. Our goal is to uncover every issue that is going on inside your jaw joint. We don’t just want to examine one aspect of your jaw and treat symptoms immediately with pain medication or a mouthguard. We need to examine everything in order for you to find true relief from your TMJ disorder, so we don’t miss an underlying cause of your pain, allowing it to linger unnecessarily.
Our Diagnostic Process
We’ll start by getting your full medical history. Medical conditions such as arthritis or past injuries can help us understand more about what is going on with your jaw. Any information on orthodontic or previous dental work will be helpful as well. If your bite has been adjusted by orthodontic work your jaw joint can be impacted, for example. Upon scheduling with us, we will provide you a full, health history packet, so we can get all of your health information. Sometimes, things that may seem unrelated can help us tailor your treatment plan for the best outcome.
After reviewing your medical history, we will start the physical exam. We will feel your jaw as you open and close it. We will also listen for any clicking and popping sounds. The goal of the physical exam is to feel for any kind of misalignment in the jaw joint. While we’re feeling your jaw, we’re also keeping the anatomy of your jaw joint in mind.
Finally, we will need to get a better look at what is going on in your jaw joint with CT scans, MRIs, or X-Rays. These images will help us see exactly what is going on with your joint. We will take scans from multiple angles in order to determine the extent and nature of the damage to your joint. In most cases, we’ll help you schedule an MRI prior to your consultation with us. This allows us to see all of your soft tissues surrounding your joint and make a more complete diagnosis at your very first visit.
From Pain Management to a Pain-Free Life
So many patients continue to deal with symptoms of TMJ simply because they haven’t had a thorough diagnosis. The TMJ is a complex system, and our specialists belong to a very elite group of professionals who have dedicated themselves to both the repair and management of this intricate joint. With over 30 years of experience and training specific to TMJ, you are in the best possible hands with our clinicians and surgeons.
At PRECiDENT, our goal is to move you past simply managing your pain. For some of you with mild symptoms of TMJ, bite braces and pain medications may be all you need. But for others of you, a more focused treatment plan may be necessary. That’s why taking a comprehensive, orthopedic approach to diagnose TMJ disorders is so important. It helps us design treatment options that actually work for you, so you can finally live a pain-free life. If you are tired of managing your TMJ symptoms and want to experience treatments that truly solve your TMJ problems, schedule a consultation with our TMJ specialists today.