#25 When is it Time to Treat TMD/TMJ?

How can both doctor and patient determine when to treat TMD/TMJ?  That is a confusing question.  And it has more than one answer.

The problem is the inconsistency of the symptoms and the confusion of these symptoms with other diseases with the same symptoms.  A symptom is not a disease, but only an indicator of the underlying disease.  A symptom is only a red flag that there is something wrong and an indicator or street sign that leads to the actual disease.  TMD/TMJ has many disparate symptoms. (various symptoms that do not seem to be connected in any way).  This explains why both doctors and patients have had nothing but confusion for decades regarding this devastating problem.

The best time to treat TMD varies if you are the patient or the doctor.  From the patients viewpoint, it is important to treat TMD when any one of the symptoms is so severe that it limits or makes difficult a normal life style.  From the doctors viewpoint, he/she would prefer to prevent the patient from experiencing any of the symptoms because he knows that the disease is progressive, and once the process begins, symptoms will increase in frequency, intensity, and variety or a period of time.  That is why doctors like to be proactive for their patients. Unfortunately, most patients wait until the symptoms are very severe and are more reactive, although there are exceptions to this rule by both patients and doctors.

The best time to teat TMD varies as to whether you are proactive or reactive.

To complicate things even more, TMD/TMJ is usually the last diagnosis considered by both doctor and patient when some of these symptoms occur. Headache is a good example.  If a patient has frequent and/or recurrent severe headaches the first thing considered is that these are migraines. Some patients can be treated for migraines for years before someone considers these unresolved headaches are caused by inflammation of the TMJ.  Another example is frequent or recurring earaches.  Some patients end up seeing multiple doctors and convenient care clinics being treated with antibiotics for ear infections before someone considers the ear pain is caused by inflammation of the TMJ.

Each and every symptom of TMD can be confused with some other disease.  That is the conundrum.

The best time to treat TMD is when you and or a doctor realizes that your symptom or symptoms are derived from inflammation of the TMJ.

It is best to be proactive and avoid other progressive symptoms which over time can lead to other complications like inability to open the mouth fully, difficulty chewing, or even severe changes in your bite.

The most common symptom of TMD is headache.  The second most common symptom of TMD is neck, shoulder, and upper back pain.  Headaches in childhood or adolescence should be a warning that TMD is occurring.  Neck and shoulder pain and tightness is an indicator that there may be inflammation in the TMJ. Recurring earaches are an indicator that there may be inflammation in the TMJ. Once you think the symptoms are caused by TMD you can confirm the diagnosis easily.  Follow the instructions in the link below to determine if there is inflammation in the TMJ.  If so, you have verified the diagnosis of TMD.


Then it is a matter of asking the question. Do I want to be proactive or reactive.