Dr. Anderson's Guide to Treating Jaw Pain/TMJ
Introduction to Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders
TMJ dysfunction (TMD) causes pain and tenderness in your jaw joints and surrounding muscles and ligaments. Causes include teeth grinding, jaw injuries, arthritis and everyday wear and tear. About 12% of Americans experience TMJ (temporomandibular joint) pain. The condition causes pain and discomfort centralized in the jaw and can lead to further issues such as chronic headaches.
What is TMJ Dysfunction?
TMJ dysfunctions are conditions affecting your jaw joints and surrounding muscles and ligaments. These conditions can cause several issues, including jaw pain, headaches and difficulty opening and closing your mouth.
You might hear people call these conditions TMJ. But “TMJ” refers to your actual jaw joint, while “TMD” stands for temporomandibular joint dysfunction. Another name is temporomandibular joint disorder.
You have two TMJs (temporomandibular joints): one on each side of your face, just in front of your ears. Your TMJs connect your lower jawbone to your skull and help with movements like chewing and speaking.
About 12% of the general adult population have some form of TMJ disorder. The condition is twice as common in women than in men. People between the ages of 20 and 40 are most likely to develop TMD.
Types of TMJ Dysfunction (TMD)
Healthcare providers classify TMDs into three categories:
Disorders of your jaw joints.
Disorders of your chewing muscles.
Headaches that result from TMD.
What are the symptoms of TMJ dysfunction?
TMJ symptoms vary widely and may include:
Shoulder or neck pain.
Stiffness in your jaw.
Difficulty opening or closing your mouth.
Jaw popping or clicking.
Tinnitus (ringing in your ears).
A change in the way your teeth fit together (malocclusion).
What is the Main Cause of TMJ Dysfunction?
There’s no singular cause of TMD. Rather, it can be a result of many different factors or a combination of factors.
TMJ causes may include:
Jaw injury (like a broken or dislocated jaw).
Teeth grinding or clenching (bruxism).
Arthritis in your jaw joint.
Malocclusion (when your teeth don’t fit together exactly as they should).
Things that Make TMJ Dysfunction Worse
You can’t always control factors that cause TMJ dysfunction. But certain habits can make TMD worse, including:
Using your teeth as tools (like tearing off clothing tags).
Poor posture. (This can place excess pressure on your neck, shoulder and facial muscles.)
Chewing on pens, pencils or other items (a common “nervous habit” behavior).
Chewing on ice or excessively chewing gum.
Taking big bites of food. (This can overwork your jaw muscles.)
Daytime teeth clenching or grinding.
Sleeping on your stomach.
What are the Complications of TMJ Dysfunction?
TMJ dysfunction can contribute to a range of complications, including chronic pain, limited chewing function and bruxism-related wear and tear.
Some factors can overlap, and it may be difficult to identify the exact cause. In some cases, it can take a while to find a treatment that works well for you.
Chiropractic Treatment for TMJ Dysfunction
In biomechanics, there is a rule that notes that the regions of the body that have the greatest mobility have the least stability; and reduced stability is coupled with greater injury and stress risk. Joints that have multiple planes of motion are particularly prone to increased stress and injury risk.
The jaw not only opens and closes, but it can also move side-to-side as well as protrude forward and retract backwards. These diverse planes of motion increase the risk for biomechanical problems.
It is increasingly being accepted that disorders of the cervical spine can cause temporomandibular disorders, even in the absence of direct injury or stress to the temporomandibular joint. In such cases, although the symptoms may be attributed to the jaw, the treatment is to the cervical spine. The authors of a comprehensive TMD study concluded that the “temporomandibular system and the cervical spine function as a single entity.” The authors of the study also present evidence that supports that whiplash injuries to the cervical spine alter the normal function of the TMJ. Injury to the upper cervical spine causes a reflex to the TMJ muscles, causing TMD.
How Chiropractic Treatments Help TMJ
Adjustments from a chiropractor can resolve TMJ pain stemming from poor jaw alignment, stress, grinding teeth (bruxism), and jaw injury. The adjustments will also relieve neck pain, tension, headaches, and cavitations (cracking and popping sounds).
The focus of chiropractic treatment for TMJ is to alleviate pain and improve function in the jaw and surrounding muscles. This is done by using a combination of techniques such as manual adjustments, instrument adjustments, soft tissue therapy, and exercises to help realign the jaw, reduce muscle tension, and improve flexibility. Dr. Anderson may also focus on the cervical spine as well as the upper back and shoulders, as these areas are closely related to jaw function and can affect it. By addressing any misalignments or restrictions in these areas, Dr. Anderson can help reduce tension and improve mobility in the jaw.
Eating Shouldn't Hurt
How one girl found relief when eating was too painful
Casey was tired of eating with pain in her jaw.
She took another bite of her lunch, and her jaw popped aggressively as she clenched to chew. The discomfort was starting to make it difficult to eat.
Every time she opened her jaw too wide it would pop out of place, putting her in even more pain. She complained about the issue to her mom, but they didn't know what to do.
"Every time she opened her jaw too wide it would pop out of place, putting her in even more pain."
Finally fed up, Casey did some research on jaw pain. The first thing that popped up in her search was an article about TMJ. She decided to look into ways to treat it.
Out of all of the suggestions, chiropractic seemed to be the easiest and least invasive. She presented her research to her mom and they decided to make an appointment at the nearby chiropractor.
At her appointment, the chiropractor asked some questions about her pain. She explained how it was difficult to unclench her jaw, popped when she opened it or chewed, and was generally difficult to move.
"Chiropractic seemed to be the easiest and least invasive."
The chiropractor showed her his activator and explained how it was an instrument used to help release tension and restore muscles to their natural state.
He used the activator on the hot spots on Casey's jaw, and she could immediately tell a difference. There was a spot on her neck that was so hard it felt like bone, but it was suddenly soft and relaxed.
Casey's jaw still popped a little but felt significantly better. The chiropractor explained that after a few visits it should continue to improve.
That night when eating dinner, Casey couldn't believe how easy it was to eat. The popping was less acute and the pain subsided dramatically. It was so nice to enjoy a pain free meal with her family.
I’ve been going to the chiropractor for years, and every time I get the “you REALLY need to come every week/every two weeks” lecture. Which, isn’t realistic for me. My visit today was easy, no pressure, and the most thorough adjustment I’ve ever had! Dr. Anderson even gave me exercises and stretches to do to help with my pain. I highly recommend!