Jaw Pain and the TMJ
By Dr. Tim Fargo, Chiropractor
Hardly a day goes by in my practice that someone does not complain about jaw pain and related issues. Many people have been told, or have heard about, problems with the TMJ. “TMJ” refers to the temporomandibular joint; this is the joint where the jawbone (mandible) meets up with the skull bone called the temporal bone. Like many of the other joints in the body, these two surfaces are covered with cartilage, but, unlike other joints, there is a disk between each of the joint surfaces. As you open your jaw, the condyle of the mandible (the end part that is sitting in the groove in the skull) moves forward, and as you close your jaw this same part moves back. When you think about how many times per day this action occurs, it is not difficult to understand why someone might have pain in this joint. We use it for talking and we also use it for chewing. There are jaw closing muscles on the outside surface of the skull and face, and there are jaw opening muscles on the inside of your mouth. In addition to the joint, the disk, the muscles, and the ligaments surrounding the jaw, the TMJ is influenced by the way your teeth match up. As if all of this was not complicated enough, the TMJ has more sensory nerve endings in it than any other joint in the body. It is no small wonder then that most of us will suffer at some point in our life from pain in the jaw, and some of us will suffer significant pain and disability with chronic jaw pain. This is known as TMD (temporomandibular disorder).
Difficulties with the jaw can cause pain or tenderness, aching in and around the ear, facial pain, difficulty with or pain while chewing, and even locking of the joint. Many people also experience a clicking, popping, or grading sensation when they open their mouths or chew.
There are numerous and varied causes of jaw pain and TMD. They include things like jaw injury, grinding or clenching of the teeth, arthritis, and, surprisingly, alteration in mechanics and orientation of the neck and skull. Because the jaw is just hanging from the bottom of the skull, misalignments of the skull where it meets the upper neck can have a significant impact on the balance and function of the jaw joint and associated musculature. While it may be true that dental and bite issues can have significant impact on the jaw joint, it is equally true that spinal and even cranial misalignments can have an equally significant impact. If you, or someone you know, is suffering from jaw pain and associated symptoms, then let one of the doctors at Chiropractic Health and Wellness know so that we can fully evaluate both the TMJ and also the skull and cervical spine for mechanics and posture. We use a combination of chiropractic manipulation, traction therapies, trigger point therapy, and massage to restore normal mechanics to the cervical spine and TMJ and rebalance the musculature. Very often doing these simple things will make a huge difference for people who suffer with jaw pain and TMD.