Screening vs. Diagnosis
It’s important to understand the difference between screening for a condition and diagnosing that condition. Screening is a preliminary step that tells us whether you are at risk for a condition. It’s usually done with a questionnaire, often online. In fact, we have a TMJ screening tool you can use right now.
Diagnosis is when doctors have enough evidence to assert that you actually have a condition. Diagnosis is never 100% certain (what in life is?), but it’s certainly enough for us to base treatments on.
Medical History and Background
Some of the most important warning signs for TMJ come from your medical history and background. For example, we know that some medical conditions are commonly associated with TMJ, such as rheumatoid arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). We also want to know if you’ve ever been in an accident that caused direct jaw trauma or maybe jaw whiplash.
We will listen to your description of your pain. Nobody knows your pain as you do, and your observations are critical to guide us to the true cause of it. We want to know when your pain started, how often it occurs, what you think brings it on, and whether your pain limits your activities.
We’ll also ask you about a long list of symptoms that are often associated with TMJ, and some that are associated with other conditions to help us make sure we’re on the right track. Sometimes, we might get a clear sign that TMJ isn’t your problem. Then we’ll refer you to someone who is more likely to be able to help.
A Detailed TMJ Exam
Once we’ve gotten a detailed medical history, we will perform a comprehensive TMJ exam. We will watch you opening and closing your jaw. Let us know if the motion we observe is typical or unusual.
Palpation (touching) is an important part of your TMJ exam. With your permission, we’ll touch your jaw joint as you open and close it–it’s sometimes easier to feel vibrations than hear them. We’ll also want to touch your jaw muscles to determine how tense they are. Since the muscles are the source of most jaw pain in TMJ, it’s important to identify muscle tension.
We may also take detailed measurements of the size and shape of your jaw as well as the extent of motion you can achieve.
Sometimes the exam tells us that we need more precise information. Fortunately, these days we have many tools available to get that information. We have a K7 system that allows us to precisely measure jaw sounds, jaw motion, and muscle tension. We also have a CT scanner that gives us precise images of your jaw joint to help us see in three dimensions what’s going on. Ultrasound and MRIs can also help sometimes, and we may recommend them for you.
Once we’ve looked at all the data, we will develop one or more treatment recommendations. Sometimes, there are multiple options that will give you relief, and you can decide which is best for you. Other times, treatment might be staged, with one phase of treatment for immediate relief, followed by one or more phases aimed at giving you long-term results.
We prefer noninvasive, reversible treatments. We only recommend modifying your teeth if it’s necessary to repair tooth damage caused by TMJ. To learn how you can get relief from TMJ, please call (303) 691-0267 today for an appointment at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado.