Modern technology, such as imaging, has led to wonderful advances in diagnosing medical problems, but for certain patients with TMJ/TMD* complaints, TMJ doctors can better understand individual patients by simply listening and looking. That’s why the most important equipment in the office is the doctor’s ears.
How is that? Simply put, most jaw disorders are rooted in a muscle problem, and the key to resolving the issue is for the TMJ doctor to understand what has compromised the muscle in the first place. With all symptoms of TMD—pain, tightness, restricted motion, sense of bite change, odd sensations in the face—there must be an explanation for why the muscles are fatigued, irritated, or contracted to the point where these symptoms emerge. Electronic diagnostic and treatment equipment is useful for TMJ doctors, but it doesn’t always reveal the ‘why’ of the problem the way simply speaking to the patient can.
Unless there has been an identifiable trauma (accident), recent dental changes, or an underlying medical problem that leads to muscle pain or spasm, the majority of all TMD muscle problems that we see stem from life challenges, conflicts, emotions, and learned behaviors. Some of these emotional or behavior triggers can include:
• Gum chewing
• Nail biting
• Biting on pen caps, straws, or plastic items
• Phone cradling
• Leaning forward for long periods of time
Information about these common habits can only be gathered by engaging the patient in a conversation. In the words of famous physician Sir William Osler: “The diagnosis is in the history if we choose to listen, but most of us are deaf.”
TMJ doctors’ goal is to listen first, look second, and then integrate the information gathered to treat our patients. I suspect this formula will outlive many of the high tech diagnostic tools that continue to entice the dental practitioner looking to treat the patient with TMD.
*To understand the usage of TMJ and TMD in this article, please click here.
Dr. Donald Tanenbaum has been practicing in New York City and Long Island for over 20 years. He is uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat bruxism, TMJ and TMD problems, Sleep Apnea, facial pain, muscle pain disorders, nerve pain disorders, tension headaches, and snoring. Learn more about Dr. Tanenbaum here.