Are you one of the approximately 10 million Americans with TMJ? Do you need to see a TMJ specialist? If you don't know, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Do you feel pain in your upper and/or lower jaw?
2. Do you get headaches frequently and often accompanied by facial pain?
3. Do you have ringing in your ears?
4. Do you hear a clicking or popping sound when you open or close your mouth?
If you answered yes to any of these, then you may well have a problem.
TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint dysfunction, and it's a condition where the hinge joint that connects your skull with your jaw becomes irritated, painful, dislodged, or locked. These symptoms are typical of TMJ dysfunction, and if you suspect you may be suffering from this disorder, you need to find a TMJ specialist as soon as possible to get yourself treated.
Here are some things you can do to find effective treatment:
1. Keep a record of all your symptoms and issues so that you'll have information to discuss with your healthcare providers. Note when and where the pain occurs, what brings it on, and what makes it feel better. At the same time, try to learn more about the condition, its causes, its symptoms, and its treatment. The Internet is a great place to find a lot of information in articles and posts. You may even want to check message boards for other TMJ patients' comments to see what they've experienced and how your case is similar to or different from theirs.
2. Take the information you found, along with your symptom log, to your primary care doctor, who can examine you and make a preliminary diagnosis. As most primary care physicians are not TMJ specialists, your doctor will, if the situation warrants it, send you to someone who is. That someone will most likely be your dentist, and she can help directly in finding the reason behind the symptoms you're experiencing. She will give you a thorough mouth and jaw exam and review your history of symptoms. She may also use diagnostic tests, such as X-rays and CT (computerized tomography) scans to examine both the teeth and the soft tissue around them. If she determines the cause of your problems is TMJ, one of the first things she may try is to fashion an oral appliance to prevent teeth grinding and clenching. If that is not helpful, she may refer you to an orthodontist or other specialist, such as a maxillofacial surgeon to help. Sometimes it is necessary to treat a jaw imbalance through surgery, but usually this is considered only as a last resort. Make sure you understand why your dentist is referring you to someone else.
3. Now that you've seen your dentist and gotten an official diagnosis of TMJ, go get a second opinion, and a third, and maybe even a fourth. This is crucial! Not every person is the same, and not all people have the same type and severity of TMJ. You want to find a TMJ specialist who will treat YOU correctly, and you can only do this by asking others their opinion of what you have learned. And if you feel uneasy about a treatment option she offers, be sure to ask why she's recommending it for you; don't blindly accept a treatment without understanding all the implications of what that treatment means.
4. Once you and your specialist have settled on a potential treatment, pause for a moment and ask your health insurance company if they will cover it. Not all insurance companies cover TMJ treatment, so it's always a good idea to check ahead. If they will not cover it, find out how much the treatment would cost you, and decide if that is an acceptable amount. Don't let yourself get pressured into an untenable situation just because the specialist wants to do it.
5. It's also important, as you go through the process of dealing with your TMJ issues, to find support. It's always much better to have someone who knows what you're going through; that way you can talk over all the points and compare notes on opinions and procedures. There are TMJ support groups around, and you should consider reaching out to one. Not only will you make new friends and maybe get a lead on a good doctor, but you'll also get good advice and suggestions on how other patients with TMJ are coping.
The burden falls on you to decide which, if any of the proffered options, is right for treating your TMJ. Be proactive. Seek out a TMJ specialist that has your best interest in mind, as well as the best program possible. It is your body, after all. Take good care of it.