Orofacial Pain

What is the difference between a TMJ Specialist and an Orofacial Pain Specialist?

Millions of Americans will develop a problem with their temporomandibular joint (TMJ) at some point in their lifetime. TMJ Dysfunction (TMD) is often characterized by pain in the TMJ, chewing muscles, or both. While clicking and popping sounds are a common symptom present in TMD, they are generally not a problem and do not necessarily require treatment. If pain arises, or you have difficulty opening or closing your mouth, you should seek treatment from a dentist who is skilled in managing TMD. In most cases, TMD can be well managed with simple, conservative treatments performed by a general dentist. In more complex cases, TMD may also be associated with comorbid illnesses such as headache, chronic neck pain, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders.

On March 31, 2020, the ADA National Commission for Recognition of Dental Specialties and Certifying Boards approved Orofacial Pain as the 12th dental specialty. This advancement of the profession of Dentistry will institute evidence-based treatments as the standard of care for all orofacial pain conditions including TMJ dysfunction. The term ‘TMJ specialist’ used by many general dentists who treat TMJ dysfunction will now be considered obsolete as it has never been approved as a true dental specialty.

Recognition of Orofacial Pain as a dental specialty will improve access to evidence-based treatments for patients as the American Academy of Orofacial Pain (AAOP) will be working with dental and medical insurers toward the goal of expanding coverage of care for patients. Specialty recognition will further expand the number of CODA-accredited advanced education programs in Orofacial Pain, training more dentists as Orofacial Pain Specialists and improving access to care. 

A Multidimensional and Personalized Approach to Treatment

In his assessment and treatment style, Dr. Cebula accounts for the fact that we are all individuals with unique experiences, emotions, and environments that may affect illness symptoms and treatment outcome. For example, a person with a high degree of life stress may unintentionally clench and grind their teeth, resulting in trauma to the chewing muscles and TMJ. If the pain from TMD is untreated and ongoing for a long period of time, this person may notice a decreased quality of life and even develop symptoms of depression. Research shows that emotion and pain are often interrelated, as both anxiety and depression can affect perceived pain intensity and threshold. This can become a vicious cycle.

As a part of your initial examination, Dr. Cebula will address your psychosocial background to determine if referral to a cognitive behavioral specialist is necessary to effectively manage your TMD, headache, neck pain, or sleep disorders.

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