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TMD Questions To Ask Your Dentist

The burden of being a smart patient/consumer is not unique to TMD; after all, many patients have to decide between conservative and more aggressive treatments for various medical conditions, so it is enormously helpful to educate yourself and ask the right questions. It's important to know the general TMD treatment philosophy of the dentist from whom you are seeking treatment. Here are a few questions to ask your dentist (along with answers that would inspire the most confidence) as you navigate through the process of getting a proper diagnosis and appropriate care:

What are the best tried and tested methods of treating TMD?

Obviously, your dentist's treatment recommendations will depend on his or her findings in your specific case. However, there are certain conservative remedies that should be tried as a first course of action and given enough time to work.

How would you describe your general approach to TMD problems?

Initially a modern medical perspective is needed for managing TMD patients — one that favors conservative, reversible treatments as a first course of action without a second phase of bite-changing or jaw realignment.

How will a diagnosis be established?

The first necessary step is for a dentist to take a detailed medical and dental history including all medication you are taking, followed by a careful physical exam of your head and neck including jaw muscles and joints. If you have other problems causing pain it is important to describe them as well.

What radiographs (x-ray pictures), if any, will be used?

A relatively simple, inexpensive panoramic screening radiograph (x-ray picture) may be recommended initially to screen the teeth and jaws including the TMJs, to rule out other serious problems. More sophisticated (and expensive) radiographs such as MRIs or CT scans are generally not indicated at the outset.

Will any other testing be needed?

Once again, since most TMDs respond to conservative and reversible treatment procedures, complicated diagnostic equipment to measure activity of your muscles and joints should not be needed.

Dentists have many sophisticated (and expensive) diagnostic tools they can use to evaluate your condition, but they may be of questionable value. Using them is not always appropriate, especially if it is still early in the diagnostic process.

How will you treat my pain initially?

All of the following are highly desirable components of a modern TMD treatment plan:

  • Medication to relieve pain, decrease inflammation, and relax sore jaw muscles
  • Home-care procedures to follow in order to help recovery
  • Physical therapy treatment

Will I have to wear an oral appliance? If so, how often and what will its purpose be?

It may be recommended that you wear an oral appliance, generally a hard occlusal (bite) guard. The main goal of any appliance used will be to relax your jaw muscles and lighten the load on your joints. In almost all cases, you should only be required to wear it at night — not all day, every day. Many oral appliances, especially if worn continually, can change your bite. An oral appliance should not be used to realign your jaw relationship, which could require major dental procedures afterward to correct it.