TMJ Pain and Chiropractic Care
By Dr. Tim Fargo, Chiropractor
The jaw joint, also known as the TMJ (temporomandibular joint), is both complex and a vexing source of pain. The TMJ consists of the joint formed by the mandible, which is part of the jaw, as it connects up to the skull, specifically the temporal bone. It would appear to be a fairly simple affair with the jaw hinging on the skull. Appearances, however, are deceiving. The TMJ does not just hinge where it attaches to the skull; it also moves forward and backward while it opens and closes. Cushioning the ends of the bones that make up the TMJ is a disk made of cartilage. This disc also moves forward and back as the jaw opens and closes.
There are jaw-closing muscles on the outside of your cheek and on the side of your head, and there are jaw-opening muscles on the inside of your mouth. The TMJ, in essence, is hanging from the skull and is therefore very much influenced by the way the skull sits on the upper neck bones. In addition, the jaw is influenced by the way that your teeth match and the way you chew. If all of these factors were not enough, the jaw has more sensory nerve endings in it than any other joint in the body. Therefore, it is not only very susceptible to imbalance and dysfunction, but it also can wreak havoc because of how sensitive it is.
TMJ problems, sometimes known as TMJ Disorder (TMD), can cause jaw pain, headaches, neck pain, earaches, hearing difficulties, vertigo, and a host of other complaints. TMD is generally caused by things such as bite disorders (like the teeth not matching properly), teeth grinding (also known as bruxism), and injury to the jaw such as can occur with whiplash trauma, neck problems, misalignments, and stress. TMD is often the result of more than one of these things conspiring. Consequently, it is a good idea, if you are suffering from jaw pain and other symptoms relating to TMJ disorders, to take a multidisciplinary approach.
There are many things that a skilled chiropractor can do to help you if you are suffering from TMD. First, a skilled chiropractor will evaluate the dynamic relationship and the alignment between your skull and your upper neck. Further, other spinal problems lower down in the system can influence the way the head sits on the neck. For example, if a person has scoliosis (a spinal curvature) or has a hunched posture, there is a good chance that these distortions will disrupt the normal balanced relationship between the skull and the upper neck vertebrae. By aligning and adjusting the individual joints and the overall posture a chiropractor can have a significant impact on TMJ pain.
Since the TMJ consists of two joints, one on the right and the other on the left, there can be imbalances and restrictions in the way either or both joints move. If, when you open your mouth, your jaw deviates to one side or another, then this implies that one of the two joints is not moving properly. If you are unable to open your mouth fully, it may be that both of the joints need to be adjusted. A skilled chiropractor can assess and determine which joint is not moving and can then adjust that joint to restore balance and movement to the TMJ.
I mentioned earlier that there are both jaw-opening and jaw-closing muscles. With chronic TMJ dysfunction, these muscles can also go out of balance, just like you could have a tight muscle in your thigh affecting your knee joint. These muscular imbalances can, all by themselves, cause and perpetuate TMJ issues. There are techniques that can be used to restore balance to the muscular support and control of the jaw.
I have found that under most circumstances, doing some or all of the above techniques will substantially or wholly resolve TMJ problems. Sometimes we need to work in conjunction with dentists who specialize in TMJ disorders, and sometimes the actual cranial bones (bones of the skull) need to be gently manipulated.
The doctors at Chiropractic Health and Wellness in Edina, Minnesota, are well-trained in the assessment and treatment of TMJ disorders. If you, or someone you care about, suffers from any of the symptoms related to TMD, then give us a call, and let’s see what we can do to help you. Schedule an appointment with our clinic today!