The temporomandibular joint and the diseases that affect it, are complex and can lead to chronic craniofacial pain, sleep disorders, neck, back and shoulder pain, trouble chewing, and a locked jaw.

The American Academy of Craniofacial Pain estimates that nearly 20 percent of American adults have one or more symptoms of TMJ disorder (TMD). Full-blown TMD can dramatically reduce quality of life and should be addressed as early as possible.

Consequently, choosing the right TMJ doctor can be critical to your life. Here are some considerations when evaluating whether a TMJ doctor or dentist is right for you:

  1.      Check their credentials.

A real craniofacial physician has taken the time to get educated on the TM joint and the systems it affects. Has the physician you’re considering been board certified in craniofacial pain or craniofacial dental sleep medicine? Or better yet, both? These two certifications demonstrate that your dentist has experience treating these issues, has received additional training in the field and is sufficiently expert to pass a grueling board exam. Typically, to maintain this certification, at least forty hours of continuing education is required.

  1.      Check their track record.

How much experience does the TMJ doctor have in the field and do they have a well-developed system for assessing, treating, and managing TMD that can be tailored to your particular circumstances?  A professional who has a track record of success can relate to some of those victories.

  1.      Review their license.

You can determine whether a dentist has complaints made against them and the level of satisfaction of previous patients by visiting a few websites. Start with licensing boards, like the American Association of Dental Boards and check rating sites like RateMDs, Vitals and Healthgrades. You should be able to find the information you need free of charge.

  1.      Test drive the dentist yourself.

Visit the dentist and determine whether they are a good listener. Are they paying attention when you speak and asking good questions? Are you hearing questions you haven’t heard before? Are they focused only on your TM joint, because that is all they know, or do they recognize a chronic pain situation? The chief complaint is rarely the source of the problem.

  1.      Take a look at their equipment.

TMJ treatment has come a very long way in the last thirty years. Make sure the dentist you’re considering has the latest imaging equipment to help diagnose your problem. If the equipment is out of date, the whole practice will be.

  1.    Does the TMJ doctor jump to surgical solutions?

Research has shown that conservative treatments are often a better option than surgery, which can always remain a consideration after all other treatments are exhausted. In the 1980s, millions of Americans underwent surgery for TMD to implant Teflon devices into their joints, only to discover that the implants were often worse than the disease.

  1.    Consider the rest of the practice.

The staff is a reflection of the dentist, so consider whether they are knowledgeable, helpful, and forthcoming. Ask about office hours, wait times, cancellation policies, emergency coverage, billing and insurance issues. These will all affect your experience during the time you seek treatment.

More than anything, a TMJ doctor must be expert, open-minded and communicative. If you find the right one, it could lead to resolving years of chronic pain.