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Choosing a Dentist or Doctor for TMJ Disorder

One of the most difficult parts of TMJ disorder treatment or any kind of medical treatment is finding a good doctor or dentist.
The first thing that every patient should consider is their relationship with their primary care physician (PCP) or general practitioner (GP). If the PCP is a trusted partner, diagnosis, treatment, and referral can be much easier.
The primary care physician should not be afraid to say “I don’t know, but I will find out,” or “I need to send you to a specialist.” Another advantage of having a great general practitioner is that great doctors know other great doctors. He or she can refer you to the top specialists in the area and you can be confident that you are receiving the absolute best care possible.

Here are the steps to choosing the right TMJ dentist or doctor for you:

Researching is the first step in finding appropriate TMJ disorder treatment. When you are trying to find a cardiologist or rheumatologist, it is much easier because you can head to their respective boards and seek a board certified physician. However, with TMJ disorder, there is no board certification and many primary care doctors may not know who to refer to. If your PCP does not know where to send you, do a search on Google for TMJ disorder specialists or the type of doctor you are looking for in the closest big city. Look at their websites and search their names to see if they have any published research (or any complaints). Refer to the latter part of this article for more in depth information on researching credentials.

The second step is prioritizing your needs. Make a list of your priorities. Here is a sample list, but note that your list may be different depending on your particular situation.

  1. How do you feel about making decisions for your TMJ disorder treatment?

Do you want medical care that helps you make decisions and explains the choices you have in treatments for your TMJ?  Or, a TMJ dentist or doctor who makes the decisions for you without any discussion as to what the different choices were?  Or would you like something in between?
This is important because if you will be doing a lot of research on your own, you need to find a caregiver who is receptive to this type of participation. Conversely, if you do not want to research, you need to find a TMJ dentist or doctor who is comfortable with making decisions based on his professional experience.
2. Are you interested in cutting edge treatments?
Would you like a doctor who is involved in the latest research? Or part of a large university? Or who is more conservative and waits until cutting edge technology is more proven?
3. Do you need your insurance to cover the treatment? Or are you willing to pay out of pocket?
4. How available would you like the practice to be? Do you want to talk to the dentist/doctor directly when you have questions?
These are just some examples of what your priorities may be when choosing a dentist or doctor. Some other factors that could be important when deciding: location, size of the practice (are there other physicians in the same group that could be seen if necessary?), affiliations with certain hospitals or professional groups, gender, age, language spoken, etc.

The third step in finding a doctor to treat your TMJ disorder, is verifying credentials.
Like we mentioned earlier, there is no specialty or board certification for dentists or doctors that treat TMJ disorder. However, the following sites will assist you in checking the TMJ dentist’s or doctor’s license and any complaints they might have against them. Always check with your local licensing boards too. The American Association of Dental Boardshas links to all of the state websites.

The fourth step is optional, but many patients find it helpful. This is interviewing potential candidates. You can either call the doctor’s offices, or talk with them in person to ensure they are the right fit for you and your situation.
Some questions you might want to ask:

  • Office hours
  • Which hospitals the doctor has privileges and where procedures are performed
  • After hour protocol and who covers for the physician if he or she is not available
  • How long the typical wait to schedule an initial and/or routine/follow-up appointment
  • How long the typical wait in the office waiting room is for a scheduled appointment
  • Are emergency appointments available? How quickly can a patient be fit in the schedule?
  • What is the cancellation policy?
  • Protocol for refills and new prescriptions over the phone
  • Emergency contact information
  • Is the doctor, his nurses, scheduling, etc available over e-mail or on the internet?
  • What are the billing procedures?

compare your choices
The fifth step is to evaluate your final doctors.After your phone interview with the staff and/or interview appointment, ask yourself the following:
Did they:
1. Give me a chance to ask questions
2. Really listen to my questions
3. Answer in terms I understand
4. Show respect for me
5. Ask me questions
6. Make me feel comfortable
7. Address the health problems I came with?
8. Ask me my preferences about different kinds of treatments
9. Spend enough time with me
10. Take my concerns seriously
Remember that a doctor’s staff is a reflection on him (especially if he is the only doctor in the office). If you can’t get access to anyone to address your concerns when you call in because the staff or answering service will not work with you, that may or may not be the doctor for you. Also, you cannot put enough emphasis on your gut instinct of your initial impression of the doctor. If you feel something is not right, or find yourself making excuses for the doctor or his staff, trust in your instincts and move on to the next doctor on your list.

Choose Your TMJ Disorder Doctor!
Congratulations! At this point you should be able to choose a TMJ dentist or doctor that meets your needs.  All of these steps may seem overwhelming, but if you do complete them, chances are you will find a practitioner that is more suited to your situation, your personality, and your priorities.
Hopefully this helps make the difficult task of choosing just the right doctor for you a little bit easier!
Please let us know if you have any questions.
Related Posts:
TMJ Overview – The basics.
Splint Therapy – A type of conservative treatment for TMJD.
Pain Management – How to Get Help When You’re in Pain (Pain 101)