The TMJ, or temporomandibular joint, is one of the most active joints in the body. This means that any dysfunction to one or more areas of the joint could lead to various disorders. Approximately 10 million Americans or more have TMJ disorder (or TMJD), with women being more prominently affected.
The temporomandibular joints are located on each side of the face, connecting the lower part of the jaw to the head. The muscles connected to and surrounding the jaw make it possible for its many directions of movement. The combined ability to hinge open and close and also to be able to slide left and right (for example, while chewing) is why the TMJ is unique from every other joint in the body.
When you have jaw discomfort or problems with the way your jaw is working, figuring out the root of the problem is important so you can find a solution that works. What can be difficult in this process, as it is with other health conditions, is that doing research on your own about treatment options can leave you confused about what to do. Here are three important facts about TMJD:
#1 – TMJ disorders can happen for a variety of reasons and are not limited to accidents
Trauma to the joint is one of the known causes of TMJ disorders. But for most jaw joint or muscle problems, the exact reason it is happening can be hard to identify. For a painful or tender jaw, there are a few factors that could be at play:
- The jaw muscles that control it may be working incorrectly.
- It’s possible that there is an issue within the joint, involving either the disc or with the way that the two connecting bones are interacting together.
- Arthritis might be affecting the TMJ, leading to degeneration and inflammation.
#2 – Your jaw doesn’t need to be popping or clicking for there to be a problem
There are multiple symptoms of a TMJ disorder, and the jaw making a sound is only one of them. Some characteristics of a TMJ problem may not even seem directly related to the jaw. These are the most common TMJ-related issues:
- 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
The location of the temporomandibular joints plays a big part in why these signs are connected to TMJ disorder. The joints are situated extremely close to the ear and the uppermost vertebra in your spine, the atlas. This can help you understand why symptoms like neck pain, earaches, and headaches would happen simultaneously with TMJ dysfunction.
#3 – There are more options for treatment aside from surgery
There are multiple, conservative treatment options for TMJ disorders. Usually, these alterative options are 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
TMJ Problems Could Be Connected to Neck Problems
When you are conscious of how close in proximity your jaw joints are to the uppermost vertebra of your spine (the atlas), it’s no surprise that the slightest spinal misalignment can lead to TMJD. This also explains why a number of the most common TMJD symptoms such as neck pain, headache, and earache are associated with an atlas misalignment. A misalignment can be a problem for your jaw in a few different ways:
- The bones – when the atlas is out of alignment, it can interfere with the proper resting position of the jaw. As time goes on, this can cause pain, discomfort, popping, clicking, locking and other TMJD symptoms.
- The muscles – atlas misalignments can lead to unequal muscle tension on the left and right sides of the face. More (or less) pulling to one side versus the other can have impacts on the way that the jaw functions and cause abnormal movements.
- The nerves – the nerves connected to the jaw joint and the muscles, originally branch off of the brainstem to connect to the jaw. The atlas encloses the brainstem protectively within it, so when this vertebra misaligns, it can cause irritation to these nerves. When nerves are unable to send and receive signals efficiently, it can lead to TMJ dysfunction.
Rickards Chiropractic is an upper cervical chiropractic practice, which means we focus closely on the details of atlas alignment. If you come in for a complimentary consultation, we can share more on how your TMJ and other related pain could be connected to the upper cervical spine and the factors previously discussed. Even a misalignment of 1/4 millimeter can take a toll on the body, which is why our gentle and precise adjustments can bring impressive relief to our patients.
Upper cervical chiropractic care is different from other chiropractic care since our adjustments are uniquely tailored to each individual’s needs. Atlas misalignments can happen in a variety of directions and severity, so each adjustment must be tailored to the patient’s condition. This kind of customization makes it possible for us to restore normal alignment that holds in place for longer, giving the body more time to heal around the correction. If you’d like to hear more about upper cervical chiropractic care and whether it is the right solution for your TMJ disorder, come in for a no-obligation consultation as a first step to increasing your quality of life.