Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, often simply referred to as TMJ or TMD, are a set of disorders in which the joints that allow your jaw to move don’t work properly. People with TMJ can still open and close their mouths, but not without some discomfort. For others, the mouth will only open partway, or may even get stuck.
TMJ disorders can be very uncomfortable and lead to chronic pain. While there is no widely accepted standardized test for TMJ, many factors can influence the malfunction of these joints . So how is TMJ diagnosed?
A Comprehensive Exam With Your Dentist
Dentists are usually the first professionals to come into contact with TMJ disorders. A comprehensive oral exam with your dentist is the best way to begin getting a diagnosis. A dentist experienced in treating TMJ disorders can evaluate your bite and jaw for signs that TMJ is present. Typically, these signs include :
- Muscle tenderness near the joints
- Signs of bruxism (teeth grinding)
- Abnormal range of motion
- Restricted mandibular (jaw) movement
Depending on what your dentist finds, he or she may recommend further testing to rule out other oral health problems or potentially proceed with a TMJ diagnosis.
Ruling Out of Other Conditions
There are oral health conditions that can cause pain and actually mimic some of the symptoms present in TMJ disorders. These could include cavities, dental abscesses (or tooth infections), lesions in the mouth, teeth grinding, trauma to the jaw, oral cancer, and overuse of the jaw, such as chewing gum excessively .
Your dentist will evaluate your oral cavity for these conditions to see if they could potentially be causing your TMJ pain. Should your oral healthcare professional feel you need further testing—for instance, if signs of oral cancer are present—he or she will refer you to the appropriate specialist during your appointment.
If your dentist suspects there’s a problem with the TMJ based on their initial findings, they’ll likely recommend imaging as the next step to get a closer look at your bite and temporomandibular joints. These diagnostics could include x-rays at your dentist’s office, or more advanced imaging, such as a panoramic x-ray, which takes a more comprehensive picture of your mouth.
Other imaging diagnostics could include a computed tomography (CT) scan, which helps your dentist better see the bones of your joints, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which helps your dentist see the softer tissues as well as the bones . These imaging tools will help your dentist get a better picture of your jaw joints and their function to determine if TMJ is present.
Could You Have TMJ?
TMJ disorders can exhibit a host of symptoms that can be complicated to diagnose. Fortunately, with the help of an experienced dentist, you can receive an accurate diagnosis based on careful evaluation of your symptoms. If you suspect you’re suffering from a TMJ disorder, don’t wait to get a diagnosis and treatment so you can begin reducing your discomfort!