TMJ Pain – Do You Have It, And What Can You Do?

A blog by Dr. Michael Radu on TMJ, TMD, and what it means to you - January, 2018

A significant number of people suffer from headaches, pain in the jaws, ears, neck, or even in the teeth for no clear reason.

Headaches could be from a TMJ issue

These combined painful conditions are many times lumped together as “TMJ” or “TMD”.  TMJ stands for temporo-mandibular joint, and we all have two of those, so the name is not used properly as a problem. TMD stands for temporo-mandibular dysfunction, which is sometimes accurate, but sometimes too vague.

When we try to put ourselves in the patient’s shoes, the pain and dysfunction can range from annoying to debilitating, and the one that suffers needs to know what to do and where to ask for help. Dentists should be the first ones to analyze the problems, because it happens at the level of teeth, jaws, joints, and related muscles. If the problem seems to be compounded, the dentists should engender the help of neurologists, chiropractors, physical therapists and, sometimes, other specialists.

A diagram of the lower jaw, simplified, from Dr. Michael's lecture.

If you are a person who suffers from migraines, headaches, ear-aches, diffuse pain in the face and neck muscles, you should seek the advice of a competent dentist first. The word “competent” is very loaded, and here is the little secret: not all dentists have acquired the specialized knowledge to deal with such problems. Although most dentists know about these issues in principle, these particular problems are somewhat of a specialty, although not recognized as such by the dental profession.

What should a patient do?

Try to research the problems you have online. Sometimes it is tricky to know what is true and what is exaggerated online. Narrow it down to a few dentists that seem to get involved with these issues. Go and ask for a free consultation, ask all the questions you have and make a judgment – is the dentist listening to you, is he or she caring, do they treat such cases often? Be aware, that there are at least two categories of treating dentists. One is of the opinion that TMJ is complicated, hard to treat and it costs a lot of money, in the thousands, sometimes more. The other type of dentist is of the opinion that TMJ is a clear, predictable and not so complicated problem to treat, and it should not cost an arm and a leg, and include an ongoing cost type of problem.

A complex diagram of the vectors of force, from Dr. Michael Radu's published research paper.

For some dentists TMJ means: “we are not sure what it is, we can try this, and this and the other, and see what happens.” For other dentists, TMJ means: “there is a structural problem that we can solve with clear procedures, in a finite period of time.”

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