Who Should Treat TMJ Pain

Who Should Treat TMJ Pain

Who Should Treat TMJ Pain?

What Kind of Doctor Treats TMJ Pain?

A TMJ disorder is one of the most frustrating conditions to deal with. Especially when the pain just won’t go away. For a lot of people, TMJ pain is mild and heals on its own. But unfortunately, for others, TMJ pain is caused by an underlying issue in the joint. The pain persists, making it difficult for them to enjoy their lives.  TMJ pain is not something you should ignore. Like with any other condition the longer you go without addressing your jaw joint pain the worse it’ll get. Constant pain is your body’s way of telling you that there’s a problem. And the only way for that problem to go away is to get treatment as soon as possible. In cases of severe TMJ pain you’ll need professional medical help. Many people turn to their primary care physician while others seek out their dentists. Oral surgeons also have the ability to treat TMJ disorders.  With so many different doctors that are able to treat TMJ pain, you may be wondering, “What kind of doctor treats TMJ disorders?” “Should I see a TMJ specialist?” “Who should treat TMJ pain?” The truth is TMJ disorders are complex. There are often many factors at work. Because of this complexity, we need to take a collaborative approach to diagnose and treat them. In order to find relief from your jaw joint pain, you will likely need a team of doctors who are committed to helping you find the right solution.  Let’s take a look at the kinds of doctors that can treat TMJ pain and how they can work together to help you find the relief you’re looking for.

What is a TMJ Disorder?

The TMJ is the joint that connects your lower jaw to your skull. You have one on each side of your head. Most of the time, you probably don’t notice these joints. But like all the other joints in your body, your jaw joints can become damaged or diseased. When this happens you have a TMJ disorder. Symptoms of TMJ disorders include:
  • Jaw joint pain
  • Clicking or popping sounds in the joint
  • Migraines and headaches
  • Jaw lock
The TMJ is a complex joint. It has ligaments, muscles, and tendons. Another important part of the joint is the synovial disc. This disc contains fluid that lubricates and provides nutrients to the joint.  Any of these parts can become damaged. Muscles and tendons can become overworked. The synovial disc can be displaced. And when this damage is severe it causes a lot of pain.  TMJ disorders have a number of causes including
  • Arthritis
  • Injury
  • Changes in your bite
A common cause of TMJ disorders is bruxism. Bruxism is when you grind your teeth and clench your jaws while you sleep. The motion caused by bruxism puts excess pressure on the joint, which can damage the joint.  Severe TMJ disorders are often complex, with multiple aspects of the joint being affected at the same time. In order to fully treat TMJ pain you need to address every aspect of your problem. You can’t just treat the symptoms and expect things to get better. As you’re considering who you should see for TMJ pain, you need to keep this in mind. 

Who Can Treat TMJ Pain?

Before talking about who should treat TMJ pain let’s look at the different doctors who can treat TMJ pain. There are 3 people you can turn to for help with your TMJ pain. Each one brings something different to the table to help you find relief.

How Primary Care Physicians Treat TMJ Pain?

When most people feel sick or have any kind of pain the first person they’ll turn to is their primary care physician. There are times when your primary care physician can treat TMJ pain.  If you see them regularly they’ll have a better understanding of your medical history, which gives them an advantage when it comes to diagnosing your pain. Since some of the symptoms of TMJ disorders can be seen in other conditions, your primary care physician can rule these out before bringing in other specialists. And if you’re TMJ pain is mild, they’ll be able to help you set up a treatment plan. This treatment plan will usually involve resting the joint, over-the-counter pain medication, and ice/heat therapy.  Most of the time, however, your regular primary care physician isn’t specialized enough to treat more severe TMJ pain. In these cases, you’ll need someone else to help treat your TMJ pain.

How Dentists Treat TMJ Pain?

Dentists are another type of doctor who can treat TMJ pain. Dentists are often a better option than primary care physicians. They often have more training and knowledge about how the jaw is supposed to work. They understand how different factors in your mouth and jaw can cause TMJ pain. In fact, your primary care physician may recommend talking to your dentist if your pain doesn’t go away with rest.  Sometimes you need a mouthguard or bite brace to treat your TMJ pain. These mouthguards help deal with bruxism by taking pressure off your jaw joint. While there are over-the-counter options, a mouthguard prescribed by your dentist will always work best. A dentist understands how your bite works and will give you a bite braced tailored to your mouth. This ensures the mouthguard will be effective.  For a lot of TMJ patients, a mouthguard is all they need to relieve their TMJ pain. However, there are others who will need even more specialized treatment, like surgery. And for these patients, a dentist will only be able to do so much.

How Oral Surgeons Treat TMJ Pain

If your primary care physician and dentist are not able to treat your TMJ pain, you probably need to see an oral surgeon. In fact, your dentist or primary care physician will likely refer you to an oral surgeon after they diagnose your TMJ pain.  An oral surgeon has more specialized experience than the other two. They spend their careers learning about and working on the jaw joint. They are usually able to see things that the other two might miss. And they are able to treat more severe TMJ pain. This usually involves surgery. TMJ surgery can help repair the damage done to the joint and reposition a slipped disc. In many cases, surgery is the only way to permanently cure your TMJ pain.

Who Should Treat TMJ Pain?

Now, after looking at who can treat TMJ pain, it’s time to talk about who should treat TMJ pain. The right answer depends on your case.  Ideally, the doctor who should treat TMJ pain is the one who has the most knowledge about the complexities of the jaw joint. That will most likely be your dentist or an oral surgeon. But even as you’re discussing your pain with a dentist or oral surgeon, make sure you keep your primary care physician in the loop. They should all be working together to help you find relief from your pain. You’re in the best situation when all of their different experiences and expertise come together to focus on your pain. The type of doctor who should treat TMJ pain should also be slow to offer treatment options before they have a full picture of what’s going on with your joint. TMJ disorders are complex. They’re different for everyone. There can be any number of causes. The doctor you choose should be willing to take the time to narrow down the cause before offering treatment. Don’t settle for someone who simply prescribes something without first uncovering the cause.

Who Should I See for TMJ Pain? 

TMJ disorders cause pain that can disrupt your life. When the pain is consistent you want desperately to find some relief. But with so many doctors who can treat TMJ pain, you may not know who to turn to.  Because TMJ disorders are complex they require doctors who have a thorough knowledge of the jaw joint. This can often be a dentist or oral surgeon. But many times one physician alone won’t be able to treat every aspect of your jaw pain. A collaborative approach is best when dealing with these kinds of complex issues.

Bolding, S. (2022a, November 9). 3 Reasons You Should See a TMJ Specialist About Your Jaw Pain. PRECiDENT | Center for Facial & Dental Medicine. https://precident.health/blog/3-reasons-you-should-see-a-tmj-specialist-about-your-jaw-pain

T. (2020, December 29). What Kind of Doctor Treats TMJ? | ABQ | Dr. Brian K. Dennis, DDS. Brian K Dennis DDS PC. https://www.albuquerquecosmeticdentist.com/what-kind-of-doctor-treats-tmj/

T. (2020a, October 9). What Kind Of Doctor Do I See For TMJ Pain? | TMJ Plus. TMJ Plus Wellness Center. https://www.tmjplus.com/what-kind-of-doctor-do-i-see-for-tmj-pain/

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Dealing with TMJ pain can be frustrating. It can be even more frustrating when you can’t find a solution that works. Most TMJ disorders can be resolved with conservative, non-surgical treatment options. Simply resting the joint, using ice/heat therapy, and taking pain medication typically does the trick. However, these things don’t work for everyone. If these more conservative options aren’t working for you, it may be time to consider whether or not surgery can solve your TMJ problems.

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