Treating the Pains of TMJ

Web Producer: Brad Maglinger

TMJ is pain in the joint of the mandible, the one that allows you to open and close your mouth. Few studies exist that really try to pinpoint its cause or the proper way to treat it. Because of that, very few insurance companies are willing to recognize it, leaving numerous patients with nowhere to turn.

David McDermott's problem is noticible to the common ear. A cracking noise coming from his jaw is called TMJ or temporomandibular joint disorder. He has been to several doctors about it, but couldn't afford treatment because both his medical and dental insurance won't cover it.

"I definitely think it's unfair," said McDermott. "Everybody's talking about the rising cost of health care and how we have to pay for certain things and these things aren't even covered and it's just something I think we need to get to the bottom of."

Dentist Daniel Fink sees plenty of patients in David's situation because it's still being debated if TMJ should be categorized as dental, medical or even cosmetic. "It's one of those things that is newly diagnosed within the last 20 years and insurance companies have yet to really quote, recognize it," Dr. Fink said.

TMJ pain happens when the joint of the mandible becomes displaced, usually from the constant gritting or grinding of the teeth. The pain can spread from the jaw to just about anywhere on the head and then on to the neck and shoulders.

Dr. Fink explained that, "It will travel down your back and it will throw your whole body posture off. You'll get a sore lower back. It will go in your hips. It's just from throwing your whole body language off."

Many TMJ patients get relief in as little as two weeks from a hard plastic mouthguard worn at night. "If we can stop that gritting and grinding habit and get your relief, we're pretty much done except for getting to the cause of it," said Dr. Fink.

And that's still a mystery. Some patients have dental problems or an injury that throws off the way they bite down. Others like David just grind their teeth while they sleep. Whatever the cause, he's just happy to finally be getting impressions made for a mouth guard from a dentist who's agreed to let him work out a payment plan.

After checking with the Indiana State Insurance Commissioner's Office, Newswatch found that TMJ is not something that is required by statute to be covered in Indiana. For that to change, it's going to take action from legislators on the local level. You can write to them and ask them to get involved.

Click here to visit The TMJ Association, Ltd. Web site, which explains all of these issues.