What Are the Best Tests for a TMJ Disorder Diagnosis?

TMJ disorder diagnosis

How do I know if I have a TMJ disorder?

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders are common conditions that can cause jaw pain and a wide range of additional symptoms. Despite how widespread the condition is, the National Institutes of Health advises that there is no standardized test for diagnosing TMJ disorder.

Instead, TMJ disorder diagnosis is a process that you go through with your dentist and potentially other specialists. Several types of evaluations and tests may be necessary to identify potential causes of TMJ and to rule out other conditions that could be responsible for your symptoms.

Speaking With Your Dentist About TMJ Disorders

The first step that you can take to deal with your TMJ disorder (TMD) is to reach out to your dentist. They’re the appropriate practitioner to initially evaluate your TMD symptoms and can refer you to other specialists if necessary.

If you’re wondering, “Do I have TMD?” there are a few primary symptoms to watch for, including:

  • Pain or tenderness in the jaw
  • Pain around the ear or other areas of the face
  • Difficulty opening or closing your mouth
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Popping or clicking noises from your jaw

Any symptom is reason enough to speak with your dentist. Your dentist will ask you about these and review your dental and medical histories. From there, they can determine the appropriate next steps for your evaluation.

A Brief Physical Evaluation of Your Jaw Area

In most cases, your dentist will perform a brief physical examination to evaluate some of the key symptoms of TMJ disorders. They will gently palpate the joints and feel the jaw area to gauge your range of motion and test for any tenderness.

They will also ask you to open and close your mouth repeatedly and have you describe any pain or soreness. During this time, they’ll listen closely to identify popping or clicking noises coming from your jaw.

Your dentist can also evaluate the motion of your jaw by looking inside your mouth. They’ll be able to identify if the jaw is opening and closing straight up and down or if some issue is causing the jaw to move irregularly.

Identifying Contributing Factors

There are various possible contributing factors that your dentist will be able to identify. Spotting these contributing factors can help establish the TMD diagnosis or indicate that other issues may be at hand.

Bruxism, the unconscious grinding of your teeth at night, is one of the most important factors to look for. This can lead to inflammation in the muscles around the TMJ, causing pain and swelling. To check for this, your dentist will look for signs of physical wear on your teeth.

Alignment issues are another dental issue that contributes to TMJ disorders. If you have a bad bite or other alignment issues, you could experience unnatural tension on the TMJ and surrounding tissues, which leads to wear and inflammation of the joint itself.

Your eventual TMJ treatment plan may include dental or orthodontic treatment for these underlying issues. Both grinding and bite misalignment can contribute to tooth decay and other health problems, so treatment helps improve not only TMJ disorders but also your overall well-being.

X-Rays and Other Imaging Tests

If TMD does seem to be an issue, you will likely need one or more imaging tests to verify the nature and extent of any damage to the joint. Digital X-rays can be performed very quickly and provide a high-resolution image of the area. This technology provides instant results rather than having to wait for your X-rays to develop.

Cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT) provides a 3D X-ray of the head and neck, producing a more comprehensive image for diagnosis and treatment planning. This can help identify a wide range of potential issues associated with TMJ symptoms.

While X-rays can provide a lot of information, you still may need further imaging. If so, your dentist may refer you for an MRI, which will reveal more detail of the joint’s soft tissues. Two scans are performed, one with the mouth closed and one with the mouth open. These provide a much better look at the joint itself, particularly any issues with the disc. 

Your TMJ Dentist in Newport Beach

Concerned about jaw pain or other symptoms of TMJ disorders? Dr. Desai can carry out a thorough evaluation at Luminous Smiles to determine whether TMD or other issues are causing your symptoms. We also provide a range of TMD treatment options that offer relief from your symptoms and ensure long-term oral health. Contact our office today to schedule your appointment.