TMJ disorders can be difficult to diagnose for a number of reasons. With a less than clear understanding of the causes and exact symptoms of the disorders affecting the temporomandibular joint and surrounding muscles, healthcare professionals may be hesitant to diagnose a TMJ condition. Additionally, the symptoms of TMJD are also characteristic of a number of other conditions, such as a toothache, sinus or ear infections, facial neuralgias, myofascial pain and various types of headaches. If pain in the jaw area is being experienced, a doctor will often recommend tests to rule out or confirm the presence of any conditions.
When a doctor conducts and examination of a patient experiencing pain in the TMJ region, they will begin by taking a detailed health history looking for any injuries, traumas, procedures or conditions that may contribute to the symptoms. The doctor will also physically examine the joint, bones and muscles of the jaw, mouth, face, neck and head to note pain and tenderness, limited motion or locking of the jaw when opening, closing, or moving the jaw side-to-side, and any joint noise that may be present during these movements of the jaw.
There is no standard, widely accepted test used in the diagnosis of TMJD. However, a doctor may require one or more of the following tests to aid in the diagnostic process:
- X-rays of the face, joint and teeth of the patient may help identify the cause of TMJ pain symptoms.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used to view images of soft tissues including muscles and the disc of the jaw joint.
- Computed tomography (CT) scan offers a highly detailed view of bones in and around the jaw.
TMJ disorders fall under the provision of a number of healthcare specialties, such as dentists, ear nose and throat specialists, primary care physicians, pain specialists, rheumatologists and endocrinologists, depending on the potential underlying causes of the condition. Among these professional groups, different tests and identifying symptoms may be used to diagnose a condition affecting the TMJ region. A patient with a complex and difficult to diagnose case of TMJD symptoms may consult a number of specialists before pinpointing likely causes of the condition, yet, as most cases of TMJD can not be cured but rather are treated to prevent worsening and pain, the underlying cause of TMJD does not need to be known to provide quality care for a patient diagnosed with TMJD.