How does my dentist know if I have TMD?
When was the last time you used your temporomandibular joints to do something? If you’re thinking back to the last time you ate or spoke, think a little more recently—like right now! Your TMJ makes it possible for you to eat and speak, but it also plays a role in making facial expressions and even aids in swallowing. The TMJ is incredibly complex, including the network of muscles and nerves that help the joints function and give you near-constant use from it. When you think about it, it’s amazing!
Still, it’s easy to see why you can feel it when these joints aren’t functioning correctly. But TMJ disorders, known generally as TMD, can have a wide range of causes and symptoms. So how does your dentist go about reaching a TMJ diagnosis? There isn’t a single TMJ test, but your dentist will use several methods to determine whether or not you have TMD. Here are 5 ways your dentist will examine your jaws for signs of the condition.
Your dentist sits down with you to discuss your TMD symptoms.
The first and most basic step to TMD diagnosis is sitting down with your dentist to discuss your symptoms and any preexisting conditions that may contribute to them. TMD can have a wide range of symptoms, including more obvious symptoms like jaw pain, toothaches, difficulty opening or closing your mouth, lockjaw, and sore or tight muscles in your jaw, face, neck, shoulders, and back. It can also cause less obviously connected symptoms like frequent headaches or migraines, earaches, ringing in your ears, dizziness, temporary hearing loss, and tingling in your hands or fingers.
Knowing all of the symptoms that you’re experiencing can help dentists like Dr. Rob diagnose your TMJ pain, pin down potential causes, and find the best treatment options for you. So don’t be afraid to mention all of your symptoms, even if you’re not sure that they’re connected. After all, at Valley Dental Clinic, Dr. Rob is here to listen! He may also ask you to describe how severe your symptoms are, how frequently they appear, and how they impact your ability to carry out daily or seemingly simple tasks. This gives him an idea of how severe the underlying issue is.
Your dentist feels the TMJ.
Once he’s listened to you describe your symptoms, Dr. Rob will perform a physical exam to gently feel the joints of your jaws themselves. During this exam, he’ll look for signs of tenderness or swelling in and around the joint, which can point to the presence of a problem with your TMJ. He’ll likely ask you to open and close your mouth during this exam, which allows him to feel how your joints move, make note of movements that cause pain, and continue feeling for tenderness as the joint moves. Dr. Rob will also make a note of how far you’re able to move your jaws with and without pain, getting an idea of how their range of motion has been affected.
Your dentist listens for popping or clicking sounds.
While you open and close your jaws, Dr. Rob will also listen to the joints for popping, clicking, or grating sounds. These sounds aren’t always a result of TMD, but they can be a strong indicator of it, especially because they can indicate a problem with the joint itself that’s causing your TMD. This can include issues such as an injury to the joint, arthritis, malocclusion, or another joint disorder like Ehler-Danlos Syndrome. As a result, hearing popping, cracking, or grating sounds when you move your jaws is a solid indicator that you may have a TMD and lets Dr. Rob know what potential issues he should look for as he continues his exam.
Your dentist examines the inside of your mouth.
Dr. Rob will also examine the inside of your mouth for signs of a range of issues connected to TMD. One of the main issues Dr. Rob will look for inside your mouth is a malocclusion or jaw misalignment. When your jaw isn’t aligned properly, its relaxed position isn’t actually ideal—or even all that relaxed. It can put extra strain on your jaw and the surrounding muscles, leading to TMD. He’ll also look for signs of a tongue tie, which can similarly impact the resting position of your jaws, and will check your teeth for signs of teeth grinding or clenching. It’s not uncommon for people to clench or grind their teeth at night without even realizing it, so he needs to check for these signs even if you don’t think you do this. Clenching or grinding your teeth exerts a lot of force on your teeth and jaws over a long time, straining your jaw and overworking the surrounding muscles. This can lead to TMD and risks injuring your teeth or wearing them down over time.
Your dentist takes X-rays of your jaw.
X-rays are invaluable diagnostic tools that can reveal a lot about your teeth, jaws, and temporomandibular joints that Dr. Rob can’t see or feel clearly during a simple physical exam. Taking X-rays of your teeth and jaws allows Dr. Rob to rule out other potential causes of your pain, such as cavities or abscesses. X-rays also give him a better look at your bite and the joints themselves, helping him spot any potential issues that are leading to your TMJ symptoms. In some cases, you may need an MRI to get a more detailed image of your jaw and TMJ, especially if Dr. Rob suspects that your TMD is the result of a bigger issue with the joint itself or the surrounding muscles.
If you find yourself wondering, “Do I have TMJ?” it’s always safer to schedule an appointment with your dentist so they can examine your jaws. If your dentist determines that you have TMD, they will move on to treatment. TMJ treatments are often relatively simple, but they have the potential to transform your daily life, helping you to reclaim a life free from pain! If you’re looking for a good dentist in Wasilla, AK to get you started on this path, feel free to call and schedule a consultation with Dr. Rob at any time.