Not Just a Headache
Recently one of our long-time patients brought in his son-a young man in his early 20's. He told us that his jaw kept catching or clicking when he chewed and that it was very painful. His father told him that he didn't have to "just have to live with the pain." We're glad he did, because we were able to help him. Many of us have chronic jaw or ear pain, or headaches. Though these symptoms can have a variety of causes, one that is often overlooked is a misalignment of the jaw often referred to as TMJ dysfunction.
What's in a Name?
Just what is TMJ dysfunction? Your jaw joint gets its name from the two bones comprising the joint. The temporal bone of the skull and the mandible (jaw bone) fit together to form a hinge-like jaw joint. Hence the temporal-mandibular joint, or TMJ.
What's that Noise?
Symptoms that might indicate TMJ include painful clicking noises when opening or closing your mouth. Pain in your jaw when chewing or a headache that does not improve with over-the-counter medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen might also be signs.
What causes TMJ dysfunction? Everyday stress causes most of us to clench our jaws and teeth. Some of us do this to excess-it becomes an unconscious habit. Clenching the teeth repetitively over time alters the normal mechanics of the jaw. This can cause misalignments in the joint. Even excessive gum chewing fatigues the jaw and strains the muscles and attachments.
Hit from behind
Holding the mouth open for long periods during dental work can cause TMJ dysfunction symptoms. So can trauma to the neck-like whiplash experienced during a car crash. In a rear-end collision, your head is thrown backwards. This causes the muscles underneath the jaw to be stretched to the maximum. Tiny ligaments that attach the jaw to the skull are also sprained. Combined together, this causes the jawbone to dislocate from the skull.
House of Cards
Dentists have long known that TMJ dysfunction can also cause many varied symptoms. Interestingly, these can be far removed from the jaw joint itself. In fact, evidence also shows TMJ can cause functional problems throughout the body. Headaches, back pain, and pain across the shoulders are often relieved after TMJ dysfunction is corrected.
Why should TMJ dysfunction cause problems throughout the body? Well, when simply opening and closing the mouth, your TMJ may appear to act like a hinge. But it's more complex than that. The chewing action isn't just the up and down motion. The complex movement of the joint also allows it to grind the food. It is impossible for only one side of the jaw to move at a time. During its grinding action, one temporomandibular joint slides forward while the other side slides back.
Catch and Release
You can feel this by placing your fingers at your jaw to the side, as if you were chewing. (When you place your fingers on your jaw joint, they should be just in front of the opening of your ears.) While your fingers are in this position, you can feel for popping in the jaw.
Snap, Crackle, Pop
There should be no clicking or popping as the TMJ moves through its complete range of motion. Sometimes this noise can be heard by people close to you. Other times it can only be felt as a lack of smooth movement and you can possibly hear it yourself. Popping, grinding and clicking of your jaw joint indicate that it is not functioning normally.
Range of Motion
We can examine you to determine the balance of TMJ activity and the muscles that move the jaw through its range of motion. When an imbalance of TMJ function is found, it can often be corrected by balancing the jaw's muscular activity with applied kinesiology (muscle testing) techniques. We can restore the proper balance and alignment to help alleviate your jaw pain.
Manual adjustments can remove joint dysfunction. Massage therapy can help relax tight muscles, which will reduce TMJ. In addition, we can use electrical stimulation on the cheek muscles. Treatment by licensed massage therapist may also be indicated. These steps can often eliminate tight muscles, alleviate pain, and improve the range of motion.
In extreme cases, it is sometimes necessary to have the bite (occlusion) balanced by a dentist. For some, a mouth splint may be recommended to prevent grinding the teeth at night. If necessary, we can refer you to a dentist specializing in TMJ dysfunction.
When the TMJ area is not functioning normally, neurological confusion can result. This particular area receives a very high percentage of nerve communication from the brain. Confusion within this system can overflow into other systems of the body. This can cause health problems literally throughout the body because of improper nerve function.
Modern science is continually learning more about the controlling mechanisms within the body. Today, we are able to treat more of the health problems to which man is subjected. Interestingly, we find that more and more symptoms are treated far from the origin itself. For instance, it is not uncommon to have a sacroiliac "hip" pain treated at the site of the jaw joint. A few years ago this treatment would not have been considered.
We're On Your Side!
If you're suffering from the symptoms of TMJ, call and make an appointment. We can help you determine whether TMJ is the cause or whether it is the result of some other condition. Either way, we can help get you out of pain and bring a smile back to your face.Top