Pinky finger in the ear, put pressure forward. Is there pain?
Open and close your jaw, do you hear any noise? Look for popping, clicking and grinding sounds.
The jaw does not fully open.
Is there a hard block that can be painful while opening your mouth?
Do your teeth fit together? An anterior open bite or difficulty bringing your front teeth together has a higher incidence of a TMD.
Who should you see?
There is a certification process for TMJ specialists within the Physical Therapy and Dental professions. The better certification processes take years to complete and have an oral as well as practical exam alongside a written test. The more advanced certifications take days to complete the testing. Find a specialist that has these credentials when seeking care.
That said should you see a dentist or physical therapist? The main difference between these professions is their approaches to treatment. Dentists will focus on the teeth as well as medication and possibly injections. A dentist will most likely recommend a dental appliance. Physical Therapist TMJ Specialists will look at the function of the jaw as well supporting systems like the neck. They provide a hands-on approach in the diagnosis and treatment of temporomandibular joint problems.
I am over simplifying the perspective of these professions. Personally I think both professions working together can be a great approach to solving a TMJ problem. Some problems are more teeth or bite related, while others are a more complex musculoskeletal problem.
Certifications to look for
CFC – Cranio Facial Certification
AAOP – American Academy Orofacial Pain
AACFP – American Academy of Craniofacial Pain
Look for any training that has Rocabado listed as the foundation for their training. Mariano Rocabado is a Physical Therapist from Chile that has shaped the world of TMJ Disorders and has mentored many Physical Therapists and Dentists in many countries over the last 4 decades.
Do you need to have a dental appliance?
If your bite is the same and has not changed over years but now you have a TMJ problem then a dental appliance is less likely. With acute TMJ injuries it is more important to help the TMJ heal and a dental appliance may be prescribed. There is more on this subject in another post.
Treatment for TMJ issues
Restoring jaw tracking or mouth opening to a smooth and efficient motion while resolving pain is our goal with treatment. Dry needling for muscle trigger points and pain, joint mobilization techniques of the jaw and neck, and exercises to restore normal jaw motion are the most common approaches for treatment.