TMJ disorder has many symptoms, some of which can mimic other disorders. It has been called "The Great Imposter" by many physicians, and because of this, diagnosis can be difficult.
The most common method of diagnosing TMJ disorder (TMJD or TMD) is by visiting a physician and having a physical exam and history performed. The physician or dentist will examine the patient’s face and jaw for pain and tenderness, listen to the joint for noises, check the patient’s bite, and measure how far the jaw can open. The physician will most likely take x-rays of the joints, which will enable him to see the bones and surrounding teeth and make sure that no other problems affecting these structures are causing the symptoms. Sometimes, other tests are ordered, such as CT scans, which are used to view the bony detail of the joint, or MRIs to view the soft tissues of the joint, including the disc.
The types of imaging used in TMJ Disorder diagnosis are:
- Computed Tomography (CT or CAT Scan) - This provides detail of the bones in the joint and surrounding areas, but does not provide great detail of soft tissues such as muscles or the discs. CT Scanners are located in imaging centers or in hospitals.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - This provides detail of the soft tissues of the joint, including the discs and muscles. These are located in imaging centers or in hospitals.
- Tomography – This is a type of x-ray that shows cross-sections of the jaw area. Many dentists have this machine in their office.
- Other Dental X-Rays: Routine dental x-rays done in the dentist’s office can provide views of the joint and surrounding bones and teeth.
If the doctor diagnoses TMJ disorder, he or she might make referrals to specialists. Some patients visit many practitioners, such as their primary care physicians, neurologists, rheumatologists, pain specialists, chiropractors, or ear, nose and throat specialists in their search for a diagnosis and subsequent treatment.
Since TMJ disorder diagnosis can often take several visits to different practitioners, it can be important to get independent opinions from physicians who are not associated with your current provider.