More than 30 million Americans suffer from discomfort, pain or loss of function related to problems in their temporomandibular joints (TMJ). Conventional medicine does not have effective answers for many of these people. But alternative therapies often do and come without the risks of drugs and surgery.
In this article, we’re going to answer some of the most important questions about the TMJ, problems in this area and look at how these problems can be overcome without drugs or surgery.
What Is the Temporomandibular Joint?
The TMJ is a small joint located just in front of each ear. It allows the lower jaw to move up and down as a person chews, bites, talks or sings. It’s the smallest joint in the body but it is constantly in motion as we talk or eat. The stresses produced in this area from biting and chewing are intense.
Your TMJ is composed of a socket in the temporal bone (one of the bones of the skull) and a knob at the very back of the lower jaw. This rounded knob fits into the socket. These two bones are cushioned by a disc made of cartilage that permits them to slide across each other easily and without friction.
When the TMJ is healthy, this knob on the end of the lower jaw moves back and forth easily. If there is an impact injury or inflammation in the joint itself, or if the ligaments in the area are injured, the sliding movement is impaired. Pain can be felt directly in the TMJ or can travel to the neck, temple or other areas.
Because the TMJ is so small, there is little room for inflammation or injury.
What Can Go Wrong?
There are several ways this joint can become painful or lose function. A disorder in this area is referred to as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). Here are some examples:
- Dislocation of the joint. The rounded knob at the rear of the lower jaw can be pushed into the wrong position by trauma. This dislocation prevents proper function and causes inflammation and pain.
- Dislocation of the cartilage. As these bones slide back and forth, the cartilage can become dislocated so it no longer acts as a buffer between the bones. As the bones move, pain and inflammation result.
- Stiffening and immobility of joint. After an injury, the joint can stiffen and the bones can even fuse.
- Bruxism (nighttime teeth-grinding). Nighttime grinding of the teeth can aggravate the TMJ and is one aspect of TMD.
What Symptoms Are Caused by a TMJ Problem?
- Pain in the face, neck or shoulder
- Stiffness when trying to open or close the jaw
- Loss of hearing or ringing or pain in the ears
- Change in jaw position altering the way the teeth meet
- Pain behind the eyes
- A jaw locked open or shut
- Clicking or popping when moving the jaw
- Pain when chewing
- Swelling on one or both sides of the face
How TMD Can Be Treated
If you suffer from TMD, it’s important to check the alignment of the vertebrae right at the top of the neck. Pressure on nerves around these vertebrae can be a direct cause of pain or can cause spasms in nearby muscles. These spasming muscles can cause pain and dysfunction in the TMJ.
Even the bones of the skull itself can be gently shifted to improve TMD. These movements are referred to as cranial adjustments (cranium is another word for the skull). If these bones shift into abnormal positions, this misalignment can impair the function of the TMJ as well as muscles in the head and face, the flow of blood and function of the nerves. Restoring them to the correct positions can help resolve TMD.
At Mattingly Chiropractic, Dr. Dusty also works on the soft tissues using Pressure Point Therapy to relieve tight muscles in the area which further helps restore normal function.
The Involvement of the Sacroiliac Joints
Far away from the TMJ, at the very bottom of the spine, are two joints on either side of the sacrum, a triangular bone that rests on the pelvis and serves as a foundation for the entire spine. When these joints are unstable, that instability works its way up the spine to the smallest joints in the body, the TMJ. This instability may need to be remedied before TMD will completely resolve.
Getting the Right Help
It takes a practitioner that has completed special training to use chiropractic and soft tissue treatment to correct TMD. It can be learned in special seminars and classes devoted to finding the right sources of TMD and remedying this problem. Not all chiropractors have completed this training but Dr. Dusty has, so he can bring these solutions to more patients. If you need assistance for TMD, just give us a call at (314) 635-1008.