The TMJ, or temporomandibular joint, is among the more complicated joints in the whole body. Because of this, it can lend itself to various disorders if one or more parts of the joint begin to function abnormally. An estimated 10 million Americans or more experience TMJ disorder (or TMJD) with more women affected than men.
The temporomandibular joints, one on each side of the face, connect the lower part of the jaw to the rest of your head. Muscles that attach to and surround the jaw allow it to move in all different directions. The combination of hinging to open and close and sliding left and right (as it does during chewing) is what makes the TMJ different from the body’s other joints.
If you are experiencing jaw discomfort or changes in the way your jaw functions, getting to the bottom of what’s going on is important to find a solution that makes sense. As with other health conditions, if you’re trying to do some research on your own about treatment options your findings might be confusing or even inaccurate. To help, consider these three important facts about TMJD:
#1 – TMJ disorders can have many causes, not just accidents
Trauma to the joint is certainly a known cause of many TMJ disorders. However, for the vast majority of jaw joint or muscle problems, the exact cause can be difficult to identify. When the jaw is painful or tender, several factors might be involved:
- The muscles that control the jaw may not be working correctly.
- There may be a problem within the joint itself with either the disc or with how the two connecting bones interact with each other.
- The TMJ might be affected by arthritis, which can cause degeneration and inflammation.
#2 – Your jaw doesn’t necessarily need to pop or click for there to be something wrong
The truth is that there are many symptoms of a TMJ disorder and having a jaw that makes noises is just one of them. Some signs of a TMJ problem may not even seem related initially. The most common TMJ-related issues include:
- Neck pain
- Facial pain
- Jaw pain or tenderness
- Clicking, popping, or grating noises in the jaw joint when opening or closing the mouth
- Stiffening or locking of the jaw
- Changes in how the upper and lower teeth fit together
- Difficulty chewing
To learn more about the connection between head and neck injuries and TMJ download our complimentary e-book by clicking the image below.
The reason why so many of these issues can be related to the jaw has a lot to do with where the temporomandibular joints are located on either side of your face. They sit extremely close to the ear and the uppermost vertebra in your spine, the atlas. This can help explain why symptoms such as neck pain, earaches, and headaches can happen in conjunction with dysfunction of the TMJ.
#3 – Surgery is NOT the only treatment option
There are many other, more conservative treatment options for TMJ disorders. Traditionally, many of these will be recommended by a dentist or other healthcare professional trained in TMJD.
- Medications, such as over-the-counter anti-inflammatories or pain-killers
- Bite guards
- Physical therapy for the jaw joints
- Corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation in the joint
- Upper cervical chiropractic care
For TMJ Problems, Check the Neck
Once you’re aware of how closely the jaw joints on either side of the face sit with respect to the uppermost vertebra of your spine (the atlas), it shouldn’t come as a surprise that even a slight spinal misalignment can start to contribute to TMJD. It also helps to explain why some of the most common TMJD symptoms such as neck pain, headache, and earache can also be related to an atlas misalignment. A misalignment can cause trouble with your jaw in several ways:
- The bones – a misalignment of the atlas can interfere with the natural resting position of the jaw. Over time, this can lead to pain, discomfort, popping, clicking, locking and other TMJD symptoms.
- The muscles – if the atlas misaligns it can cause unequal muscle tension on the left and right sides of the face. More (or less) pulling on one side versus the other will influence how the jaw can function and can cause abnormal movements.
- The nerves – the nerves that feed the jaw joint and the muscles that move them branch off of the brainstem. Since the atlas encircles the brainstem, if it misaligns it can irritate these nerves. If the nerves are not able to send and receive signals properly, it can lead to abnormal function of the TMJ.
Read Health Center is an upper cervical specific chiropractic practice. This means we take an extremely detailed look at atlas alignment in particular. During a complimentary consultation, we will discuss how your TMJ and other related pain might be related to the upper cervical spine and any of the factors mentioned above. If your atlas has misaligned, even by fractions of a millimeter, then we are able to take a gentle and precise approach to correcting it.
Upper cervical chiropractic care is also unique in that adjustments are tailored specifically to each individual’s needs. Atlas misalignments can happen to varying degrees and in different directions. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all adjustment in our practice. This degree of customization allows us to achieve normal alignment that holds in place for longer, allowing for the maximum amount of healing to take place uninterrupted. To learn more about whether or not upper cervical chiropractic care might be the right solution for your TMJ disorder, a no-obligation consultation is the first step towards improving your quality of life.
To schedule a complimentary consultation with Dr. Read call our Ames office at 515-233-8880 or simply 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.