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November is TMJ Awareness Month – Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction is Not a New Disorder

By Larry Pribyl, DDS

Often referred to as TMJ, this disorder is not new. It’s just been misdiagnosed for years. Unfortunately, negative or inconclusive findings often lead to prolonged drug therapy, a frustrating doctor to doctor search by the patient and often an incorrect diagnosis of psychosomatic illness. Many TMJ patients have had extensive work-ups and testing leading to ineffective counseling, pain medications and other alternatives.

Years later, after experiencing much frustration, patients find themselves upset at an inadequate health referral system that promotes inaccurate diagnosis. Although better now than ever before, this problem still plagues the health care community today.

Symptoms Mimic Other Disorders
Part of the problem is that TMJ disorder symptoms mimic so many other disorders. It is not uncommon for patients to be treated inappropriately for migraines, anxiety, depression, arthritis, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or other chronic pain. To add to the confusion, many TM joint disorder patients ALSO suffer with one or more of these additional conditions.

Even for dentists who have extensive training in craniomandibular disorders and jaw dysfunction, these are often challenging cases to manage. To discover the true cause of the pain, professionals are not unlike detectives looking for clues which can put the pieces of the puzzle together. For instance, among the varying headaches; vascular, sinus congestion, or migraines, the majority of all headaches are muscle-contraction headaches—most often caused by a jaw joint disorder. In the past, most clinicians had no way of knowing this information since it was not included in their educational programs. Today, you will find more and more health care professionals recognizing the symptoms and referring patients to a specialist with training from the American Academy of Craniofacial Pain. Proper screening takes minutes and would allow professionals to use their combined knowledge to unravel the mystery of diagnosis and determine the cause and course of correction.

TM Disorder Symptoms
TM Disorder symptoms include the following:
• Jaw clicks or pops when opening/closing
• Chronic headaches
• Ears congested, ringing or painful
• Tense or painful neck
• Facial pain
• Unexplained dizziness
• Jaw locks open/closed
• Pain behind the eyes
• Difficulty swallowing
• Clenching and grinding teeth
• Neck, shoulder, back pain/stiffness
• Limited jaw movement

Finding the “Right” Team of Professionals
A specifically trained and qualified TMJ dentist is usually the one who diagnoses TM disorder. Splint therapy (orthotic that fits over the teeth) along with other therapies may be suggested. Finding the “right” team of professionals is usually determined by the TMJ dentist through referrals once diagnosis and treatment begins. In our office, we work with Physical Therapists, Chiropractors, Ear Nose and Throat Physicians, Neurologists, Dentists and many other health care providers to achieve the best result for our patients.

In an ideal world, patients wouldn’t be left seeking answers, spending their life-savings to see 10 or 12 health professionals, and building anger toward a health system that ignores and dismisses them with “it’s all in your head’ or “learn to live with it.” In an ideal world, the lines of communication would be open between alternative medicine, physical medicine and the dental profession to bridge the gap of information.

A Specialist in Treating TMJ
As a TMJ dentist, Dr. Pribyl works with physical therapists, chiropractors and other health professionals to achieve the results his patients need to break free of the cycle of pain. Call our office to schedule a consultation appointment at 816-795-1000.

Dr. Larry Pribyl has achieved Diplomate status with the American Board of Craniofacial Dental Sleep Medicine and the American Academy of Clinical Sleep Disorders Disciplines.

Larry Pribyl, DDS, has been in private practice over thirty five years. He has his Master of Excellence: American Academy of Craniofacial Pain, he is a Diplomate: American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine, and a Diplomate: Academy of Clinical Sleep Disorders Disciplines. He specializes in treating head, neck, and facial pain as well as dental sleep medicine. His training comes from experts in these fields where he has acquired hundreds of continuing education hours in post graduate studies.

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