by Stacy Stone, ChronicPainConnection Expert
There is no known "cure" for TMJ disorder, so therapies focus on alleviating pain and improving function. The National Institute of Health recommends that conservative, non-invasive therapies be exhausted before any invasive or surgical treatments are attempted. Many doctors will give you a self-care regimen to do at home that will help with any pain. However, if conservative therapies do not alleviate your pain, or your function is extremely limited, more aggressive treatment may be necessary.
Treatment for TMJ disorder can vary depending on what type of doctor is seen. A dentist often focuses on the relationship between your teeth and jaw, to see if a malocclusion (incorrect bite) is contributing to symptoms. He or she might make a splint, which covers and protects your teeth if you grind (brux) at night, helps to guide your bite in the right direction, or attempts to recapture a disc. There are many types of splints, all with different functions. The type of splint the doctor uses depends on your specific symptoms and diagnosis.
Surgery is done by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, and can include many different procedures. The most common procedure done for TMJ disorder patients is the arthrocentesis. After the arthrocentesis, various other procedures may be done such as arthroscopy, arthroplasty , or total joint replacement. Please keep in mind that only a very small percentage of TMJ disorder patients need surgical intervention. A second, third, fourth or even fifth opinion when considering surgery is always a smart idea.
Since these therapies are often expensive and may not always be covered by insurance, it is important that both you and your doctor have thoroughly researched the treatment. It is also important to realize that there are no board certified "TMJ Specialists." Since there is, at present, no professional organization that certifies doctors or dentists who treat TMJ disorder, a physician can assume the title of "TMJ Specialist" with little or no training specifically related to TMJ disorder.
What Doctors Treat TMJ Disorder?
Since TMJ disorder patients have many different symptoms, treatment can include several different physicians of varying specialties. Headaches can be treated by a neurologist, ear pain can be evaluated by an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, and pain can be treated by a pain management specialist.
A dentist may utilize splints to correct bite issues; an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon (OMS) can assist with both surgical and non-surgical interventions. Other healthcare providers that may form part of a patient's care team can include Physiotherapists, Acupuncturists, Chiropractors, Osteopaths, Orthodontists, Nutritionists, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Massage Therapists, and the family doctor (PCP or GP).