When you have a specific health issue, you want to consult a specialist. If you have a problem with your heart, you want to see a cardiologist. If you have a problem with your skin, you want to see a dermatologist. So what makes finding a TMJ specialist so difficult?
It only makes sense that if you suspect you have temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD), you would want to consult a TMJ specialist. However, while there are dentists who are highly trained in TMJ diagnosis, and are experienced in the treatment of TMJ disorders, the American Dental Association (ADA) currently does not recognize TMD dentistry as a dental specialty. Among other reasons, this is due to the difficulty in creating a new governing body that will standardize a burgeoning dental field.
The ADA currently recognizes the following nine dental specialties:
- Dental Public Health
- Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
- Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology
- Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
- Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics
- Pediatric Dentistry
Without TMJ Specialists, Who Treats TMJ?
This can lead to confusion for patients who are looking for specialized care for a specific condition that is resulting in their TMJ symptoms. It can also mean that dental practitioners may refer to themselves as a specialist without having the latest training, technology or treatment processes in place. Without an official TMJ dysfunction designation, patients are often left wondering how they can choose the best dentist to treat the cause of their symptoms. As with many other conditions, the first step is to see your primary care physician or find a trained tmj dentist to rule out other causes of your TMJ disorder symptoms. This is the best alternative to a TMJ specialist. This is especially true with TMJ problems since many underlying medical conditions could mimic TMJ disorder.
Both facial pain & tinnitus (ringing in the ears) for example, are symptoms of TMD, however, they could also be caused by an ear infection or a sinus condition. Migraine headaches may be a result of TMD, but they also could be connected with nerve pain or tumors. Lockjaw may be a sign of tetanus which requires immediate care. The point being, all of these complaints may be related to TMJ but they could also be related to acute conditions that require immediate care. It is important to know that you are dealing with a medical professional that is very familiar and prepared to either diagnose a jaw dysfunction or rule it out as a cause.
Once you get a clearer idea of what your pain is – and what it is not – it is time to consult a dentist who is experienced in TMD. The tricky part is that without that ADA designation, there are no established standards of treatment and care for TMD. As a result, some treatments are not based upon scientific research and evidence.
With recognized medical specialties, such a pediatrics or rheumatology, you can seek a board certified physician in that area of medicine. Since the ADA does not recognize TMJ Dentistry as a specialized field of medicine, however, there is no board certification process. Furthermore, your primary care physician may not know a TMD expert in your area so obtaining a referral to a properly trained dentist can be difficult.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that people who suspect they have TMJ disorder to look for providers who understand musculoskeletal disorders that affect muscles, bones and joints and who are experienced in treating pain conditions. Pain clinics in your local hospital or in university hospitals may be able to refer you to local dentists who treat painful head, neck and jaw conditions.
If your doctor does not have a referral for you, then you will have to take the lead on finding a trained expert in the field. Options include going through educational institutions, neuromuscular dentistry associations or through the TMJ dentists directory at Leading Dentists. All of our TMJ dentists have completed the Core VII curriculum at LVI Global and focus their practices around sound TMJ treatments with high efficacy that treat the causes, not the symptoms of TMJ dysfunction. Without this resource, you will have to qualify the TMJ dentist on your own.
Verifying credentials can be done by visiting the American Association of Dental Boards website or the AFA state dental boards’ page, which has links to state websites. Be wary of any doctor ranking sites that want to charge you for their reports.
Finding a “TMJ Specialist”
Once you have identified a few TMJ dentists in your area, you can narrow the field by asking the doctors some specific questions related to TMJ disorder. Depending on the practice, an office representative may answer your questions over the phone, direct you to the practices website, or you may be able to make an appointment to interview the dentist in person.
Here is some criteria to consider once you have spoken to the dentist or office. Did the person that you spoke to:
- listen to your questions and answer in terms that you understood?
- treat you respectfully?
- ask you about treatment preferences?
- spend enough time with you?
You may also wish to ask about the technology that the TMJ specialist uses, the typical wait time to get an appointment, billing procedures and the phone or email availability of the doctor. Leading Dentists provides a full list of TMJ questions to ask a practitioner. Make sure to educate yourself so that you can have an informed conversation regarding your symptoms and potential TMJ treatments.
TMJ Self Care Treatments
By some estimates, there are more than 50 different treatments for TMD. Due to this wide range of treatments, the National Institutes for Health recommends that patients begin with conservative, reversible treatments that do not invade the tissues of the face, jaw, or joint or involve surgery. This is the same treatment recommendations followed by all TMJ dentists at Leading Dentists, as well.
In addition, there are several TMJ home remedies you can follow such as:
- eating soft food diet
- applying cold packs or moist heat
- avoiding extreme wide yawning, loud singing and chewing gum
- learning and applying stress-reduction techniques
- practicing gentle jaw stretching exercise
Neuromuscular Dentistry TMJ Treatment
While there is no ADA specialty, neuromuscular dentistry is a field of dentistry that focuses on TMJ disorder diagnosis and treatment. Neuromuscular dentists have a thorough understanding of the relationship between the joints, nerves, muscles, tendons and bones that affect your jaw alignment and bite position. They also have a wealth of training and experience to help patients navigate the complexities of jaw dysfunction. The treatment recommendations that follow allow for reduced recovery times and provide effective treatments in up to 85% of TMJ disorder cases without TMJ surgery.
Once properly diagnosed, the large majority of TMD cases can be non-invasively treated with a combination of professional treatment and self-care practices. Conservative yet targeted treatment can restore stability to your TMJ, decrease pain and improve the quality of your life.