The seemingly straightforward motion of opening and closing your mouth is made possible by your temporomandibular joint, or TMJ. While that act may seem uncomplicated, the jaw is actually one of the most complex joints in your body. Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders are often referred to simply as TMJ or TMJD. These are a group of conditions that can cause pain and dysfunction in the jaw joints themselves or in the muscles whose job it is to move the jaw.
Part of what makes the TMJ unique is how it is designed to function. The lower part of your jaw, the mandible, has rounded ends on each side called condyles. These condyles articulate with the temporal bone which is part of your skull. These joints are separated by a disc made of soft cartilage. This disc, much like the discs in your spine, helps to absorb some of the shock from chewing and other jaw movements. This unique design of the TMJ allows not only for the mouth to hinge open and close, but also to glide from side to side allowing us to talk, chew, yawn, and more.
Where is my TMJ Disorder Coming From?
When the jaw doesn’t work as it should and it’s painful or tender, those issues can have their origins in 3 main places:
- Pain or discomfort in the muscles that control the jaw
- Displacement or dislocation of the cartilage disc
- Arthritic (degenerative or inflammatory) changes in the TMJ
One of these things may be the problem or it could be a combination of one or more if these conditions. It is often the case that people with TMJ disorders also have other health difficulties such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, or other sleep disturbances. Making matters even more complicated is that TMJ symptoms can come and go, which can lead to delaying finding the proper treatment.
Taking a Closer Look at TMJ Dysfunction
On the surface, a person may think that the jaw itself must be painful or tender indicating an underlying TMJ problem. While jaw pain and discomfort may very well be a sign that there is an issue, there are several less obvious symptoms of TMJD that you may not think are connected:
- Aching facial pain
- Neck pain
- Clicking or popping in the jaw joints
- Bruxism, or grinding of the teeth
The reason for this variety of symptoms is that the TMJ on either side of your face sits very near to many other related structures. The jaw joints are very close to the inner ear as well as to the upper cervical (upper neck) area of the spine. There are also many nerves in that area that control the movement of the jaw as well as sensation to the jaw and face. If you are experiencing any of these common symptoms, it is possible that there is also a TMJ disorder present.
Tips for TMJD Relief
Just as there is for any other health condition, there is a range of care options for TMJ disorders. Some conservative options you can try on your own to see if any relief is found include:
- Avoid chewing gum
- Try not to clench or tense your jaw. Incorporating relaxation or stress-reducing techniques may help.
- Eat soft foods to reduce the strain on jaw muscles
- Encourage relaxation of the jaw muscles with moist heat
- Avoid extreme jaw movements when yawning, talking or chewing
Other commonly used treatment options recommended by medical doctors or dentists involve:
- Pain medications
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Jaw splints or bite guards
- Botox injections
Effective TMJD Relief Through Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care
Because neck pain is such a common and consistent symptom for people, it’s not that difficult to see how addressing underlying neck issues might actually provide some relief for TMJ problems as well. Upper cervical chiropractors focus on the uppermost bones in the spine – your atlas (C1) and axis (C2). This is such an important sub-specialty within the chiropractic profession because this area of your spine is completely different from the rest and requires a very specific approach to correcting it properly. For TMJD sufferers, this can mean finding the relief that you’ve been looking for.
The upper cervical spine is designed for movement. It is what allows us to move our heads in all directions. When there is even a slight misalignment of one of these vertebrae it can cause several issues:
- Abnormal range of motion
- Abnormal brainstem function
- Abnormal blood flow
- Abnormal CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) flow
All of these are very detrimental and may also be contributing to poor jaw function. Because these vertebrae sit so closely to the TMJ on either side of the head, even a small misalignment can affect how the jaw moves and cause pain in the face, neck, ears, as well as the jaw itself.
If an upper cervical misalignment is the root cause of your TMJ problems, then it must be addressed in order for you to experience relief that is more than temporary. A complimentary consultation at Precision Spine Specialists is the first step to figuring out if an upper cervical problem is contributing to your TMJ disorder. If you’ve ever experienced any accident or injury to the head or neck, then the likelihood that an atlas misalignment is part of the underlying issue is high. Before any adjustments are given, we always perform a detailed analysis to measure any misalignments present. At that point, a gentle and precise adjustment is given in order to restore normal upper cervical alignment. This correction also relieves any pressure on other soft tissues and nerves which allows for your body’s natural healing process to occur optimally. If you have been suffering from a TMJ disorder and have not yet found anything that brings you lasting relief, then an upper cervical chiropractic approach might be the missing piece of the puzzle.
To schedule a consultation with Dr. Hall or Dr. Chalke call our Franklin office at 615-778-0887 or just click the button below.
if you are outside of the local area you can find an Upper Cervical Doctor near you at www.uppercervicalawareness.com