Why TMJ Treatment?
TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. This refers to the joint between the jaw and the skull. When people say that they “have TMJ,” they typically mean that they have problems with their TMJ. This could include pain in the jaw, clicking or popping when chewing or when opening or closing the mouth, or stiffness of the jaw muscles.
Relatively little is known about TMJ and how best to treat it. There are many clinicians who offer various treatments for TMJ, but they may not all be covered by insurance.
Options include conservative, at-home treatment with cold therapy, gentle stretching, and over-the-counter pain relievers, or stronger pain relievers prescribed by the dentist; physical therapy; a stabilization splint; and, in extreme cases, surgery. For more detail about the treatment options, visit our TMJ Treatment page in our Education Wiki.
If you have TMJ, and one of these options has been recommended to you, you may wonder whether you can afford the treatment, and whether there are other treatments that are more affordable.
TMJ treatment is not a recognized specialty for either doctors or dentists, and your treatment could also include a physical therapist. For at-home treatment as described above, the cost is very little, and many providers recommend you try this first to see if you get relief from your TMJ symptoms. For physical therapy, the cost is usually $50 to $300 per session, with several physical therapy sessions typically recommended. The cost for a stabilization splint, including the exam and fitting, is typically around $2,000. Surgery is sometimes performed for TMJ, and costs around $5,000 to $7,000 for most surgeries, although a more extensive surgery can cost up to $70,000.
Keep in mind that this is only an average; it varies by region and by individual dentist, so you should check with the dentist(s) you’re considering to determine their exact fee for your appointment or procedure. Ask what’s included in that fee, to make sure you aren’t surprised by extra costs when you get the bill later.
Will Insurance Cover It?
Some dental insurance companies cover TMJ treatment, while others exclude it from coverage. Even if your company covers more conservative treatment for TMJ, such as pain medications or physical therapy, surgery often will not be covered. This is because the National Institutes of Health and other professional organizations have not determined that surgery is safe and effective, and urge patients to be cautious before undergoing surgery. You should call your insurance company to determine your coverage, or ask for help from the staff at the dental office; they’re used to dealing with insurance companies and can help you accurately determine your coverage.
Medical insurance typically does not cover dentistry at all. You need to have a separate dental insurance plan to cover dental care.
To many people, paying hundreds or thousands of dollars up front seems impossible. However, if you don’t already have the money saved, you have many options available for financing. In some cases, dentists offer financing plans for their patients. You can also get a medical credit card or other credit card, often with an attractive introductory interest rate; a medical loan, personal loan, or home equity loan from your bank; a loan from your 401(k); or loans or gifts from family and friends. Even if your credit isn’t great, you’d be surprised how many options you have. For more details about the financing options for your procedure, check out our Dentistry Financing page.