This is a question we hear at Sleep and TMJ Therapy almost every day. When a person hears that they need to wear an appliance or two for 12-18 months they almost inevitably want to know why it takes so long. Many people feel that the slipped discs can just be ‘pushed back into place’ and then the problem is fixed. It just does not work that way, although we all wish it would be that simple. The real problem with slipped discs is that you have to figure out how they got that way: Could it have been trauma? Maybe there was an accident that popped them out of place? Or what we see in so many cases are the back teeth are simply not tall enough to keep the condyle (top of the jawbone) from banging too hard in the socket.
Diagnosis of the problem is paramount. A really well-done MRI is critical in determining the path of treatment, and many times getting good imaging is quite difficult. So here is the first ‘delay’ in fixing the problem, getting an appointment for a well done and well-read MRI. It can take several weeks to get that appointment and quite honestly some people just do not want to wait. I can’t blame them either. Let’s get it done now!
The next delay is just getting an appointment at the office to discuss all the issues. This is where we look at the bone from the CBCT X-ray and the soft tissue from the MRI. In most cases, people want their insurance to pay at least something and that in turn creates the next delay. Next on our list is the fact that with TMJ appliances, they are custom-made. This takes time. They are not something sitting on the shelf, ready to put in the mouth. It takes weeks to make them since they are custom made for each person.
Now let’s get to the next big delay. You have to wear the devices for 12-18 months to give the discs a chance to move back into the proper position. That’s right folks, it takes that long, especially if the discs have been displaced for several years. The discs don’t just fall back into place instantly. It will take time and patience. Of course, some are not willing to devote such time (and patience) to their health, so they do not do anything. That is OK as not everyone is experiencing the same level of pain or discomfort. When it gets really bad, the patient will pursue treatment but generally now the problem is harder to fix, costs more, and takes more time. This is like most things in life.
Finally, the biggest time consumer of all – finishing after the discs are back in place. In most cases, orthodontic work is needed to grow the teeth taller to protect and support the TM joints (the jaw joints). Orthodontics can take 1 ½ -3 years, easily! So here you are, having spent all this time on appliances only to realize it’s going to take another couple of years. You are basically dedicating up to 4-5 years of your life toward fixing a TMJ problem. This is why we always tell our patients phase one is appliance therapy and phase two is finishing. Thus, the question has been answered. Now you know why TMJ treatment can take so long!