What is TMJ? (Temporomandibular Joint)
TMJ is the hinge joint that connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the temporal bone of the skull. We are able to control the movement and position of the jaw with the 68 pairs of muscles that are attached to the joint. They allow you to chew, talk, speak and swallow and are in constant use. If you put your finger in your ear and then push forward while you open and close your mouth you should be able to feel it. This joint is one of the most frequently used in our bodies.
It is not clear exactly what causes TMJ but it is believed that symptoms can occur when there are problems with the muscles of the jaw or with parts of the joint itself. An injury to the jaw, temporomandibular joint, heavy blow or whiplash of the head/neck can cause TMJ. Other possible causes can include:
- Grinding or clenching the teeth, which puts a lot of pressure on the TMJ
- Dislocation of the soft cushion or disc between the ball and socket
- Presence of osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in the TMJ
- Stress, which can cause a person to tighten facial and jaw muscles or clench the teeth
- Pain or tenderness in the face, jaw joint area, neck and shoulders, and in or around the ear when you chew, speak, or open your mouth wide
- Limited ability to open the mouth very wide
- Jaws that get “stuck” or “lock” in the open- or closed-mouth position
- Clicking, popping, or grating sounds in the jaw joint when opening or closing the mouth (which may or may not be accompanied by pain) or chewing
- A tired feeling in the face
- Difficulty chewing or a sudden uncomfortable bite – as if the upper and lower teeth are not fitting together properly
- Swelling on the side of the face
- May occur on one or both sides of the face
Other symptoms you may experience with TMJ include toothaches, earaches, problems with hearing, headaches, dizziness, upper shoulder pain, headaches and ringing in the ears (tinnitis).
Some basic, conservative treatments for TMJ include:
- Apply moist heat or cold packs.
- Eat soft foods.
- Take medications.
- Low-level laser therapy.
- Wear a splint or night guard.
- Undergo corrective dental treatments.
- Avoid extreme jaw movements.
- Keep your teeth slightly apart
- Learning relaxation techniques
How Can Chiropractic Care Help?
Your chiropractor is trained and equipped to correct ailments due to bone misalignments. A chiropractor will assess your current lifestyle, get a family and medical history from you and do a hands-on assessment to see why you are experiencing this pain/joint problem. Likely you will be sent to have x-rays done to locate if there is an obvious misalignment.
Your chiropractor will also create a TMJ treatment plan for you to follow. If your TMJ is stress-related then several muscle-relieving exercises and/or stress relieving therapies may be recommended. Some of these may include meditation, counselling, or massage. Treatments such as heat, ice, electric stimulation and ultrasound are used when needed. The emphasis is on rehabilitation and return of motion through specifically tailored programs.
Chiropractic care can reduce your pain associated with your TMJ either when used alone or in addition to other treatment methods. Pain is eased when the misalignment between your spine and nervous system is corrected. Adjustments can help relax your muscles, adjust your joints and chiropractors can use specific trigger points to accurately re-position your jaw. A trigger point feels like a knot or knots and can be painful when pressure is applied to them, even twitch in response to the pressure. They are made up of very sensitive muscle fivers. This treatment can not only treat the short term pain but also prevent your TMJ from returning.
Do not live with pain if you do not have to! You want to get help to correct the problem, not just treat the pain.