Understanding TMJ disorder diagnosis Skip to main content

Understanding TMJ disorder diagnosis

A young man holding the side of his face in pain

Responsible for speaking, eating, and swallowing, the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a complex joint in the human body. When damaged or diseased, the TMJ can lead to chronic discomfort or other oral health problems and conditions, including grinding, jaw clenching and muscle fatigue. In this post, we will cover the common symptoms of TMJ disorders, and the tools used by oral surgeons for diagnosis.

Identifying a TMJ disorder

Symptoms of a TMJ disorder can extend beyond a patient’s jaw and face, with discomfort reaching down the neck and into the shoulders. Patients dealing with a TMJ disorder may experience one or more of the following side effects:

  • Jaw is sore for no apparent reason
  • Stiffness in the jaw
  • Difficulty opening or closing the jaw
  • Clicking or popping in the jaw when opening or closing
  • Tension throughout the head and neck area
  • Tightness in the shoulders

Examining the jaw, joint, muscles and teeth

Proper diagnosis of a TMJ disorder requires advanced imagery. Here are some of the technologies available to better understand the root cause of a patient’s TMJ concerns.

  • Cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT) scans use advanced 3-D imagery to capture a full picture of the head and neck areas to help oral surgeons better identify TMJ disorders.
  • Electromyography (EMG) is a technique that uses stimulation to measure muscle activity to assist in TMJ treatment planning.
  • Sonography uses high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to produce dynamic visual images inside the TMJ–this joint vibration analysis can provide information on whether abnormalities are present.

Treatment options

If a TMJ disorder has been diagnosed by your oral surgeon, they will first try noninvasive options. Both over-the-counter and prescription medications can alleviate symptoms, including acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Other non-surgical options include mouthguards, oral splints, physical therapy, trigger point injections, and ultrasound therapy. Your doctor may also recommend behavioral changes relating to oral activity and to generally reduce overall stress.

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