To become a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) specialist, you must first obtain a degree, such as a Doctor of Dental Medicine degree or a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree, from an accredited dental school. There is no specialized authorization for a TMJ focus. A person who wants to become a TMJ specialist typically takes courses related to orofacial treatment during dental school. After graduation, he or she will pursue a residency or fellowship focused on treating oral and maxillofacial pain.
Similar to a pre-med course of study, a pre-dental course of study includes a firm foundation in biology, inorganic chemistry and organic chemistry. These are courses that should be taken in college. Outside of class, it might also be beneficial to shadow a TMJ dentist or surgeon in order to learn more about how to become a TMJ specialist. Consulting with a counselor or academic advisor can help in your search of a local dentist to shadow.
Usually, pre-dental students begin applying to dental school during their junior year of college. The first step is to take an admissions exam that will test your science, math, reading and spatial reasoning abilities. Next, you should apply to your schools of choice, making sure to apply to schools from which current TMJ specialists have graduated. You can find this out by searching for the websites of TMJ specialists and reading their biographies to see where they obtained their degree.
Many dental schools participate in a service that allows you to consolidate applications, such as the American Association of Dental Schools application service. After turning in applications, expect to have a personal interview with the dental school's representative. This interview will give you the opportunity to inquire about how to become a TMJ specialist. It also is imperative that you apply for financial aid during the application season in order to help mitigate the cost of going to dental school.
In dental school, there will be no specific path to take in order to become a TMJ specialist. Dental students interested in this specialty take the same courses as other students, with perhaps an additional internship in oral surgery or orofacial treatment during the summer. It is not until after dental school that training to become a TMJ specialist becomes apparent.
After dental school, there are two paths that interested students can take: a residency in oral and maxillofacial surgery or a fellowship in orofacial treatment. Both paths depend on whether you, as someone who wants to become a TMJ specialist, want to focus on surgical or nonsurgical methods of treatment. Post-dental school membership in a professional society related to these disciplines can also boost your career plans.