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TMJ Diagnosis – Portland, OR

The Essential First Step That’s Almost Always Ignored

The mere fact that you are reading this likely means that either you or someone you know is suffering from temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems. It is, after all, not a subject that has a wide audience of persons not directly affected by it.

Perhaps you are looking to confirm your suspicions, to verify that jaw joint noises (popping and clicking), jaw locking, pain in the jaw, and pain in the side of the face are all related to what is referred to as “TMJ” (technically, the TMJ is the joint on either side of the jaw, and the syndrome of issues related to it is called “Temporomandibular Dysfunction,” or TMD, but that is a side note. For the purposes of this article, TMJ and TMD will be used interchangeably.).

Physical deterioration of the joints can certainly lead to all the above-mentioned problems, but when you are only measuring subjective symptoms, you often get erroneous diagnoses. If you have a limp, for example, the cause can be anything from a postural problem to an incompetent toe joint to a bad hip or knee; it could even be a pebble in your shoe. It only makes sense to diagnose the situation objectively to minimize the risk of correcting the wrong problem.

Most dentists receive scant education in treating TMJ/TMD and limit their exams to a list of symptoms that are verified perhaps by feeling the joint as the patient opens and closes their mouth. This may pick up popping and clicking, but provides little reliable information, other than that there is a problem in how smoothly the jaw opens and closes. To treat with such a diagnosis, without specific measurable goals, is to invite a very compromised result.

The jaw joints are the most complex joints in the body and require a great deal of coordination between them. Neither side can operate independently of the other. They rely 100% on muscular coordination on each side of the midline of the body. The position of the teeth, how they hit, and when they hit are critical to directing the joint movements. Furthermore, there is a thin and delicate disk of cartilage that needs to maintain its position throughout the movement of the jaw. This is not a mechanism that can be “fine-tuned” bit by bit without direction and objective data.

The first step in diagnosing the health of the TMJ is to run a very easy, and completely non-invasive, test which listens to the sounds of your jaw joints as it opens and closes. This objective and highly reproducible data gives us an accurate picture of how each component of each joint functions, how “out of sync” they may be, and at what stages in the open/close cycle any disturbances occur. Very simply, it lets us more accurately evaluate the ideal treatment for your very specific situation.

This exam is done via a set of headphones, but instead of delivering music to your ears, it listens to the sounds generated by your joints, as you simply open and close your mouth. It is quick, comfortable, completely non-invasive, incredibly accurate, and it provides us with essential information unavailable in any other manner.

Why is this important? It is important because the joints are the least directly correctable part of TMJ/TMD. You can adjust the bite (how the teeth interact), and through them, how the muscles react, but you cannot do anything to correct the internal physical deteriorations of the TMJ themselves without intricate surgeries. So, it is imperative to know the conditions of the joints before attempting anything else.

Please note that very few TMJ sufferers have joints that cannot be improved by refining how the teeth interact; current statistics show that fewer than 15% of TMJ sufferers are in this category. This quick screening enables us to be more candid and upfront with you by providing data unavailable by other means. Because, of course, no one wants to be frustrated in the results.

The Sonogram is so important in diagnosing TMJ that we use it with every patient, even during our complimentary consultations. The patient always deserves to know their true condition from the start, and there is no simpler, more accurate, or more comfortable way to determine this than through the sounds your jaw joints make when opening and closing. Treating TMJ/TMD can be a journey, and if you get off on the wrong path from the beginning, you will almost certainly wind up somewhere other than where you want to be.