People with TMJ often suffer for years, even decades before they finally get a diagnosis that makes sense and can lead to successful care for their conditions. This means that for all that time, they are needlessly suffering with an array of symptoms and potentially experiencing damage to their teeth and joints, leading to the need for more involved care later on.
But why do people go so long without getting their TMJ diagnosed? There are many potential causes.
People Ignore Symptoms
Diagnosing TMJ is hard because it can have so many different symptoms. People experience different TMJ symptoms, and they may not realize that all of them are related to their condition.
Proper diagnosis starts with people realizing that they have a problem. Unfortunately, this can be a difficult barrier to overcome for TMJ. That’s because people either don’t realize the severity of their symptoms or they don’t realize that the different symptoms are connected.
Some of the symptoms are relatively minor and might be ignored for a long time. That may be because TMJ symptoms can come and go. It may seem that home care relieves them, but then they return. Other times people may think the symptoms aren’t serious. Like jaw popping and clicking, which people may dismiss if it’s not painful, not realizing how serious it can be.
Other symptoms may seem unconnected. You might not think to mention headaches when you’re talking to your dentist. Or jaw clicking when you’re talking to your doctor.
And still other symptoms–like tooth wear–may take time to notice.
It’s hard to get a good diagnosis when all the symptoms aren’t being reported.
Many Doctors Don’t Understand Condition
It also doesn’t help diagnosis that most general practitioners don’t really understand TMJ. They may not realize that the various symptoms they’re hearing are connected, which means they may not be able to diagnose the condition.
They may also not think about TMJ very much, and may not know how common it is, or even that there are objective tools for measuring and diagnosing TMJ.
It’s also an unfortunate truth that women may have a harder time getting doctors to take their condition seriously. Studies have shown that dentists are more likely to ignore reports of pain by women, and since women are more likely to report TMJ, this may postpone diagnosis.
So, even if you’re talking to your doctor about your symptoms, you might not get a good diagnosis.
Most Dentists Can’t Diagnose It
So talking to your dentist about TMJ symptoms may be the best next step. But you may be out of luck there, too.
Some dentists may perform the typical palpation tests and ask about your medical history, but they may not have the training or equipment to perform a more complex diagnosis. TMJ diagnosis can be done very scientifically, identifying the precise cause of your condition and recommending proper treatment, whether your symptoms are related to disc displacement, joint wear, muscle tension, malocclusion, or other causes.
See a TMJ Expert
When trying to determine whether you have TMJ, it’s important to work with an expert dentist who has the training, tools, and experience to get a precise diagnosis, and then move from that diagnosis to a treatment plan that really addresses the cause of your symptoms.