The Real “Jaws”
What is TMJ?
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a loose joint connecting the condyle of the mandible also known as your lower jaw to the temporal bone. Muscles of the mouth allow movement of this hinge joint so that the jaw can move in the upward, downward and side to side directions so that we can open and close our mouth for such tasks as but not limited to chewing/swallowing, speaking, laughing, talking, smiling, kissing and yawning ¹. Our facial expressions are attributed to the muscles of the jaw influencing the TMJ.
What causes TMJ Disorder?
When dysfunction occurs at this joint, it can cause pain, limited jaw mobility or deviations, and even headaches. Disruption of the TMJ can be caused by trauma whether do to poor dental work or a blow to the face, degenerative changes/arthritis, poor neck and jaw posture/alignment, excessive jaw use from bad habits of gum chewing and nail biting or the more common reason stress². Stress can lead to habitual grinding of teeth and clenching which affects the biomechanics of the jaw and muscle dysfunction due to overuse.
Signs and Symptoms of TMJ
Some of the signs and symptoms associated with TMJ disorders include clicking and/or popping in the jaw upon opening and closing, difficulty biting or chewing, headaches/migraines, tinnitus, pain in the face including the jaw, behind the eye or front of ear, neck pain, dizziness and/or blurry vision ². Temporomandibular disorder can also cause limited jaw mobility upon opening accompanied with pain.
How is TMJ Disorder diagnosed?
Upon noticing these signs and symptoms, going to your doctor or dentist, they can further assess the mechanics of your jaw while listening to the sounds when opening and closing, observe your jaw mobility and press on areas you might deem as sensitive. “If your doctor or dentist suspects a problem with your teeth, dental X-rays may be recommended. Also, a CT scan can provide detailed images of the bones involved in the joint, and MRIs can reveal problems with the joint's disk ³.”
Who does TMJ Disorder affect?³³
It has been estimated that about 75% of the general population has at least one sign of TMJ disorder ⁴. Roughly 33% have one symptom that causes them to seek medical help ⁴. The prevalence rate is higher among those 20-40 yrs of age and are 3x as likely to be affected among women than men ⁴. Also people with high anxiety or stressful environments, persons who undergo frequent dental work and/or spend an excessive amount of time on the computer all seem to be linked to higher risk factors for having TMJ disorder ⁴.
Who can treat TMJ Disorder?
Various health care professional scan help with TMJ disorders including Dentist, Orthodontist, Ears Nose and Throat doctors, Physical Therapist, Psychologist and Chiropractors¹. Dentist and Orthodontist can typically provide mouth guards for you to protect against bruxism (teeth grinding) and any noted stress on the joint ¹. Ear Nose and Throat doctors can prescribe pain medication/muscle relaxers as well as provide means of treatment for any ear related symptoms as a result of your TMJ disorder. Psychologist can help reduce the stress and reduce bad habits related to cause of poor posture and teeth grinding. Chiropractors can provide joint mobilizations of the neck and jaw to help with proper alignment. Physical Therapist can help reduce pain and improve alignment by assessing and treating the muscular imbalances causing malalignment of the jaw and any cervical related issues impacting poor posture and any impaired balance/dizziness associated with your TMJ disorder.
Is there a cure for TMJ Pain?
Yes! Depending on the healthcare provider you seek, certain treatments will be rendered. Myofascial release and gentle stretching of the tight muscles of the jaw and neck can significantly improve posture and decrease tension of the jaw and minimize inflammation. Electrical stimulation and other modalities such as heat can reduce inflammation. Certain exercises prescribed by either your Physical Therapist or Chiropractor may help restore tongue position and improve muscle strength for areas of the neck or jaw where muscle imbalances are causing dysfunction of normal TMJ mechanics. Joint mobilizations can also help with restoring proper alignment especially if you have decreased mobility in jaw either with opening or shifting to the side. Modifying your diet initially to softer fews can provide less stress on the jaw joint and reduce unnecessary clicking and popping. Also, eliminating parafunctional habits such as gum chewing, nail biting, jaw clenching can help decrease tension on the jaw and help lessen inflammation.
Do You Have Jaw Pain? Read This. (2016, March 14). Retrieved from https://fullpotentialpt.com/do-you-have-jaw-pain-read-this/
Mohl, N. Functional Anatomy of the Temporomandibular Joint. Chapter 1 The President’s Conference on the Examination, Diagnosis, and Management of Temporomandibular Disorders. Published by American Dental Association June 1-4, 1982
TMJ disorders. (2017, August 16). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tmj/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350945
Rugh, J., Solberg, W. Oral Health Status in the United States: Temporomandibular Disorders. Journal of Dental Education. Vol. 49 pgs 398-404, 1985