TMJ Specialist San Diego: Should You See a Doctor or Dentist?

It may be surprising to learn that TMJ can be a complex condition, and requires help from a qualified professional. If you suspect you are experiencing TMJ, you may be wondering what the best treatment is and who to contact for TMJ disorders.

In this post, we will discuss the differences between doctors and dentists when it comes to TMJ disorders. We'll also explore some of the most effective treatment options for TMJ disorders in the San Diego area.

What is TMJ disorder?

A woman who is experiencing TMJ disorders

TMJ disorder, also known as TMD, is a condition that affects the temporomandibular joint connecting the jaw to the skull. It can cause jaw pain, tenderness, and limited mobility in the jaw muscles.

Additional TMJ symptoms can include jaw clicking or popping, facial pain, headaches, shoulder and neck pain, earaches, swelling, teeth grinding, and difficulty opening the mouth wide.

Should you see a doctor or TMJ specialist in San Diego?

It is generally recommended to see a dentist first for TMJ. While some general practitioners may be able to diagnose and treat TMJ disorders. However, dentists who specialize in TMJ are typically more knowledgeable and experienced.

A dentist can evaluate your jaw joint, jaw muscle, and bite, as well as identify any dental issues contributing to the disorder.  If your dentist suspects an underlying medical condition may be causing TMJ symptoms, he or she may recommend that you see a doctor for an additional evaluation to identify the root cause.

What are the most effective treatment options for TMJ in San Diego?

Someone who wants to take medicine to relieve pain from TMJ disorders

The most effective treatment for TMJ disorders depends on the specific cause of the condition and the severity of the symptoms.

Some common treatments for TMJ disorders include:

  • Self-care measures: Eating soft foods, avoiding chewing gum, and applying heat or ice packs to reduce symptoms.
  • Lifestyle modifications: Stress reduction and relaxation techniques.
  • Oral appliances: Use of mouthguards or splints to help alleviate pain and prevent teeth grinding.
  • Physical therapy: Exercises to stretch and strengthen jaw function and reduce pain.
  • Medications: To help reduce pain and tension in the jaw muscle.
  • Injections: Corticosteroid injections and even Botox can be used to relieve pain, relax the jaw muscles, and reduce inflammation.
  • Surgery: In rare, severe cases, surgery may be necessary to repair or replace the jaw joint.

What will happen if TMJ is not treated?

If left untreated, TMJ disorder can lead to chronic pain and even permanent damage to the jaw joint. It is important to seek TMJ treatment not only to prevent further damage but also to relieve painful symptoms.

Symptoms that may occur if TMJ is left untreated, include:

An old woman is experiencing pain in the neck caused by TMJ disorders
  • The TMJ pain or damage may worsen and become chronic or permanent.
  • It may become difficult to speak, chew food, or open your mouth wide due to a limited range of motion.
  • Popping or clicking sounds may occur when opening the mouth.
  • Severe pain, headaches, migraines, pressure around the eyes, sinus problems, and neck pain may occur due to strain on muscles
  • Ear pain, ear ringing, hearing loss, or dizziness may occur.
  • Sleep may be impacted due to pain and increased grinding or jaw clenching.

How much does it cost to see a TMJ specialist in San Diego?

A dentist doing cost calculations

The cost of seeing a TMJ specialist in the San Diego area varies on several factors, including the specialist's experience and qualifications, the complexity of your case, and the location and type of healthcare facility you visit.

The cost is typically lower for conservative treatments, such as over-the-counter medications and lifestyle modifications.

If a mouthguard is recommended the costs can vary based on where you purchase it:

  • Over-the-counter: OTC mouthguards typically cost between $20 to $30.
  • Online retailers: A custom mouthguard from online retailers generally ranges from $50 to $200.
  • Dentist: A custom-fit mouthguard from your dentist can cost anywhere from $300 to $1000 and will depend on insurance, deductible, and copay.

Physical therapy costs will depend upon the symptoms being treated, as well as the number of appointments needed to address the condition.

While surgery is generally recommended as a last-case scenario in rare, severe cases, the costs can significantly increase, depending on the type of surgery needed, the geographical location, and the surgeon's expertise; they can range from $5,000 to $50,000.

Keep in mind, it's important to always check with your insurance provider to understand the coverage options available to you, as well as discuss fees and insurance policies with your dentist or TMJ specialist in San Diego.

How long does TMJ take to heal?

TMJ healing time varies depending on the severity of the condition and the treatment method used. Mild cases can heal within a few weeks or months with conservative treatments.

More severe cases may require physical therapy, oral appliances, orthodontics, or, in rare cases, surgical intervention; taking several months to a year or more to achieve full recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is TMJ a medical or dental problem?

TMJ can be both a medical and a dental problem, as it involves the dysfunction of the jaw joint and surrounding muscles.  

If the cause is related to dental issues, a dentist may be the best choice. Should the cause be related to an underlying medical condition a doctor may be better equipped to manage the condition.

If you are experiencing painful and uncomfortable symptoms, it is important to seek professional care to identify the underlying cause and develop the appropriate treatment plan to help you find relief.

Why do I suddenly have TMJ?

Several factors can contribute to the sudden development of TMJ, including:

  • Trauma: A sudden impact or injury to the jaw, head, or neck.
  • Teeth grinding or clenching: Habitual teeth grinding can put excessive pressure on the TMJ, leading to pain and discomfort.
  • Arthritis: Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation and damage to the TMJ.
  • Stress: Can cause tension in the jaw muscles, leading to clenching and grinding.
  • Poor posture: Strains the neck and jaw muscles, leading to TMJ symptoms.
  • Dental problems: Misaligned teeth, missing teeth, or a bad bite can cause TMJ pain.

How do you get rid of sudden TMJ?

There are several ways to alleviate sudden symptoms of TMJ, including:

  • Apply moist heat or ice to the affected area for 10-15 minutes several times a day.
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Avoid hard, chewy foods and stick to a soft food diet for a few days.
  • Gentle jaw exercises and stretches can help relieve tension in the jaw muscles.
  • Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, or meditation can help alleviate stress and tension in the jaw muscles.

Can TMJ be a symptom of autoimmune disease?

Yes, TMJ can be a symptom of autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's tissues, which can include the jaw joint and surrounding muscles.

If you are experiencing symptoms such as joint pain, fatigue, or dry eyes and mouth, it is important to see a doctor or rheumatologist for further evaluation and testing.


TMJ can cause painful symptoms and other symptoms that impact your quality of life. Choosing the right medical professional for your TMJ disorder is an important step in ensuring you receive effective treatment.

If you're experiencing uncomfortable or worsening symptoms, we at Smiles by Design are here to address your questions and concerns.  We can help develop a TMJ treatment plan that is right for you and helps you live pain-free from TMJ!

Contact us today today to schedule a consultation!