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Temporomandibular joint disorder (often referred to as TMJ or TMD) can result in more issues than trouble with chewing and pain in your jaw. Unfortunately, if you have TMJ, you may develop headaches, ringing in your ears, and even neck pain.

Serving Los Angeles and nearby regions in California, the Center for Cosmetic, Implant & Neuromuscular Dentistry (CCIND) encourages you to visit our office in person if you suspect you have TMJ. TMJ isn’t too difficult to diagnose and, if you visit our offices, our own Dr. Solomon will use advanced treatment practices to correct the origin of the problem.

Identifying TMJ Symptoms

In order to diagnose TMJ, you will first need to recognize its signs. One of the most common signs of TMJ is pain in one or both jaw joints. Although sometimes pain occurs when you first wake up, you may also experience pain throughout the day and it may flare up when you chew. It’s also possible that your jaw will feel stiff or sore.

You may notice a clicking or grinding sound when you chew or open your mouth too wide.

Sometimes, the issue becomes so severe that your mouth has a limited range of motion when you open it.

Other possible symptoms of TMJ are:

Ringing in your ear (i.e. tinnitus)
Difficulty chewing
Facial pain
Aching pain around or in your ear
Back, shoulder, or neck pain
Headaches
Jaw locking when the mouth is open or closed
Pain or pressure in the sinuses
Vertigo or dizziness

Headaches from TMJ may feel similar to tension headaches. However, these headaches may occur in one or more areas of the head. TMJ can also be a trigger for migraines.

Can a Dentist Diagnose TMJ

Yes, a dentist can diagnose TMJ. In fact, dentists are the ideal practitioner to diagnose TMJ.

Unfortunately, a standard primary care practitioner may not connect the signs of TMJ to one another. As a result, less common symptoms of TMJ are sometimes treated separately, rather than collectively, by physicians. In addition, primary care physicians have limited treatment options for TMJ and oftentimes ultimately refer patients to a dentist.

On the other hand, dentists (especially those with specialities in neuromuscular disorders and TMJ) are familiar with TMJ’s broad list of symptoms. They can determine if TMJ is the underlying cause of your pain, discomfort, and other symptoms.

How Is TMJ Disorder Diagnosed? What to Expect at Your Visit

Gathering Information About Your Dental and Medical History

The first portion of your appointment consists of filling out necessary paperwork, including a detailed medical and dental history report. This is necessary for the dentist to diagnose TMJ and develop a treatment plan that’s safe for you.

Certain aspects of medical history may point to TMJ as a possibility, for example previous dental surgeries or a history of grinding or clenching your teeth. Injuries to the jaw can also contribute to TMJ. Arthritis (e.g. osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis) can cause your jaw to set and lead to TMJ as well. Some connective tissue disorders also cause TMJ.

Additionally, it is important for you to list any medications and/or supplements you are currently taking.

Discussing Your Symptoms

After submitting your paperwork, our dentist inquires about your symptoms and when you experience them. This is the ideal time to mention any pain, discomfort, or other possible TMJ symptoms that you may have. It’s important to discuss symptoms that may seem minor, such as headaches or ringing in the ears, as TMJ may be the underlying cause for these, as well.

During this portion of the exam, Dr. Solomon asks if symptoms are persistent. He also wants to know when symptoms started.

The doctor inquires about activities that contribute to pain and other symptoms. He also asks if you experience any clicking, popping, or grinding when you move your jaw and, if so, if it is painful for you. Based on your responses, our dentist may have other questions to further help him diagnose your condition.

Since stress can contribute to the disorder, Dr. Solomon inquires about your stress level and whether you have anxiety, which can prompt some people to grind or clench their teeth.

Examining Your Mouth and Jaw

During examinations, our dentist performs thorough analyses of the inside of the mouth. He looks for signs of grinding and clenching.

He asks you to open your mouth to evaluate the range of motion in your jaw joints. He checks for clicking or grinding noises at the same time.

Next, Dr. Solomon places pressure on joints to further assess the problem.

A portion of this exam is dedicated to looking for any misalignment in your jaw.

Our dentist also examines the face, neck, and shoulders, especially if the patient has listed pain or discomfort in these areas or other symptoms of TMJ.

Diagnostic Tests for TMJ

Currently, there isn’t a standard diagnostic test that is performed on every patient who may have TMJ. Often, the examination and medical history portions of the appointment are sufficient in order to diagnose the condition.

However, our dentist may recommend imaging for some patients, which can include:

X-ray
CT scan
MRI

An X-ray of the jaw (closed and open) can identify misalignments, fractures, and other contributing factors. Out of the imaging technology, X-rays are generally the least helpful in diagnosing TMJ as other techniques offer clearer, more detailed images of the jaw bone. Likewise, X-rays only display the bones and teeth.

Though a CT scan is a type of X-ray, it’s more detailed. Usually, our dentist only orders one if your X-ray showed signs of bony change. A CT scan, or a computerized tomography scan, uses a rotating X-ray machine. This provides the dentist with a cross-sectional image of your jaw and shows soft tissue, bones, and blood vessels. CT scans, however, only display a limited view of your disc and soft tissue.

An MRI, short for magnetic resonance imaging, is a type of imaging that uses magnets and radio waves to capture an image of the inside of your body. This particular approach aids diagnosis of TMJ because it grants the dentist an in-depth look at the inside of the jaw bone. Additionally, MRIs can help Dr. Solomon determine if you have joint damage. Fortunately, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), MRIs don’t expose you to radiation like X-rays and CT scans do.

What to Expect After Your Diagnosis

After diagnosing TMJ, Dr. Solomon takes a different approach than standard dentists do. After diagnosing TMJ, a general practice dentist tends to use physical therapy and/or a mouthguard. These aren’t the most effective solutions for reducing TMJ symptoms and targeting the source of the problem.

Dr. Solomon doesn’t use any medications that could possibly cause side effects, nor does he use an invasive surgical method. Instead, Dr. Solomon uses his expertise with TMJ and education in advanced dental studies to treat TMJ like the neuromuscular issue it is.

Our dental practitioner begins by using technologically-advanced tools that find the patient’s optimal bite. With these findings, Dr. Solomon creates a TMJ splint. This jaw-repositioning device puts your jaw in the proper position, and can alleviate TMJ symptoms.

It can take time for the splint to realign your jaw and correct your TMJ symptoms. Knowing this, Dr. Solomon advises patients on how to manage their symptoms.

How to Find a Quality TMJ Specialist Near You in the Los Angeles Area

Many dentists don’t have sufficient training to identify symptoms, diagnose, and treat TMJ. General dentists have knowledge about the condition, but often have limited resources for diagnosis and treatment. Additionally, TMJ is commonly misdiagnosed or undertreated. Therefore, it’s critical to find a dentists who specializes in this field of dentistry.

The first step to find a TMJ specialist near you is searching, “TMJ specialist Los Angeles” or a similar phrase. You’ll receive several results of dentists with expertise in TMJ treatment. It’s essential to visit each website and compare your options based on criteria such as:

Credentials
Experience
Approach

You may need to scrutinize more than the office’s website to find information you want. For instance, you may want to go on a doctor review website and search for the dentist themselves.

Credentials

When reviewing a dentist’s credentials, it is important to look at the school they attended in addition to their degree path. You should look into the residency or fellowship the dentist completed, as well as if they completed any additional training programs.

Experience

On the office’s website, the dentist often lists how many years they have practiced, as well as what their expertise is. Doctor review websites are another source for this information for many practitioners.

Approach

You may also want to compare a number of dentists’ philosophies regarding patient care. You want a dentist who believes in putting the patient first. If you fear the dentist, you probably will want to select a practitioner with a strong desire to make patients comfortable (e.g. they may focus on creating a welcoming environment).

Patient Reviews

Patient reviews are invaluable when it comes to a TMJ specialist in Los Angeles. It’s important to hear about other patients’ experiences. Though a handful of negative reviews might not be a deal breaker, you should find a dentist who has mainly positive reviews.

Talk in Person

It’s best to schedule a visit. Meeting with the dentist gives you an opportunity to ask specific questions about the condition and its treatment, as well as the dentist’s approach to dentistry. With firsthand experience of how the dentist addresses your concerns, you can make a more informed decision.

If you speak with the dentist in person, it is easier to tell whether you click with them. No matter a dentist’s success rate, if they don’t make you feel comfortable and confident in their work, your experience won’t be pleasant.