Temporomandibular joint disorder, commonly referred to as TMJ disorder, is a painful condition that involves the joint that connects the lower and upper jaw. While many patients can be successfully diagnosed and treated by their primary care physician, visiting a TMJ specialist may be warranted for moderate to severe cases.

What is TMJ?

TMJ has a number of different causes or things that exacerbate symptoms, including:

  • Injury to the jaw
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding or clenching)
  • Excessive gum chewing
  • Stress
  • Arthritis
  • Even poor posture

Common TMJ disorder symptoms include:

  • Pain in the temporomandibular joint (located where the upper and lower jaw connect, just beneath the temple)
  • Clicking and popping in the jaw
  • Swelling or warmth on the face in the area of the joint
  • Earache
  • Headaches
  • Stiffness in the jaw, especially upon awakening
  • Locking in the temporomandibular joint

These days, temporomandibular joint disorder is also known as TMD.

What is a TMJ specialist?

Just as you would visit a heart specialist for issues with your cardiovascular system, a TMJ specialist visit may be in order if you are experiencing the symptoms of TMJ/TMD.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recognizes the following nine dental specialties:

  • Endodontics
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology
  • Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
  • Dental Public Health
  • Pediatric Dentistry
  • Periodontics
  • Prosthodontics

Without a specifically recognized designation, it can be difficult for patients to locate a TMJ specialist who has the focus and training to effectively treat their condition.

How to find a TMJ specialist

The National Institute of Health (NIH) recommends that in order to find a TMJ specialist who is qualified, a patient should focus on dental professionals who have studied musculoskeletal disorders. A pain clinic may be able to refer you to a TMJ specialist who has experience in painful conditions of the head, neck, and jaw. These neuromuscular dentists understand the complex relationship between the skeletal and muscular systems. They can help patients understand the roots of their TMJ.

Physical therapists who specialize in TMJ are also potential care providers. A physical therapist can help TMJ sufferers to gently stretch and strengthen all areas of the jaw. This can both relieve TMJ symptoms and prevent further damage to the joint.

Patients with TMJ may also benefit from counseling. Stress and anxiety may be related to TMJ, and a counselor can help patients make the connection between what’s happening in their mind with the consequences in their body.

TMJ specialists will work closely with a primary care physician to identify the signs and symptoms of TMJ/TMD. They’ll also design a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses underlying causes or comorbid health issues that may be exacerbating the condition.

What does a TMJ specialist do?

Regardless of how a patient finds their TMJ dentist or specialist, most TMJ treatment begins with conservative options aimed at helping to manage pain and alleviate symptoms. A self-care regimen of soft foods, over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and warm compresses are generally the first step to relieving pain and swelling.

A TMJ specialist has other weapons in their arsenal for the fight against TMJ. Because TMJ can be a chronic illness characterized by acute, painful flare-ups, a TMJ specialist will work closely with a patient’s primary care physician to identify triggers. In general, the progression