You may have heard of TMD or temporomandibular joint disorders (sometimes called TMJ syndrome). You may wonder if you have it because you have felt pain in your jaw area. What is this condition? TMD is not just a single disorder. Rather, it is a group of painful conditions that impact the jaw joint (temporomandibular joint- TMJ) and the muscles that control chewing. Women are affected twice as often as men. There are three main types of TMD. They are:
- Degenerative joint disease: osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in the jaw joint
- Internal derangement of the joint: dislocated jaw or displaced disc or injury to the condyle (a bone near the joint)
- Myofascial pain: most common form of TMD causing discomfort in the muscles that control jaw function, neck muscles, and shoulder muscles
One or more of these conditions may exist at the same time. Research is constantly being done to find answers to the pain of TMD. Scientists are looking at how psychological, behavioral, and physical factors come together to cause TMD.
What Does the Temporomandibular Joint Do?
The temporomandibular joint connects the mandible (the lower jaw) to the temporal bone on the side of your head. To feel this joint, put your fingers just in front of your ears and open and close your mouth. These joints are flexible to allow the jaw to move smoothly from side to side and up and down, making it possible for us to yawn, chew, and talk. The muscles that surround this joint control its movement and positioning.
As you open and close your mouth, the condyles – the rounded ends of the lower jaw – slide along the joint sockets in the temporal bone. When we close our mouth, the bones move back into their original position. To keep this motion smooth there is a soft disc located between the temporal bone and the condyle. It acts as a shock absorber to the TMJ.
Pain in the TMD Joint
Pain in this area of the jaw, thankfully, does not usually indicate that a serious problem is developing. Most often, the pain from TMD is temporary and occasional. It seems to appear in cycles. Mostly, the pain eventually goes away with little or no treatment. It is only a small percent of people who develop long-term symptoms. For these ones, however, the pain can be miserable.
Do You Have TMD?
If you can answer yes to more than one or two of the following questions, you may have TMD:
- Do you clench or grind your teeth?
- Do your jaw muscles feel tender?
- Do you have frequent headaches, particularly in the morning?
- Have you noticed any of your teeth wearing down?
- Is it painful to open your mouth, chew, or yawn?
- Does your jaw make clicking or popping sounds when you open and close your mouth?
- Do you have facial pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, or pain in more than one tooth?
- Is it hard to open your mouth wide?
- Does it feel like your jaw gets stuck open or closed?
- Do you get earaches, not due to an infection?
- Do you have pain around your ear?
- Do your ears ever feel stuffy or itchy?
- Do you feel dizzy?
- Do you have buzzing, ringing, hissing, or roaring in the ears?
Caring for TMJ
When it comes to caring for TMD, you want to keep two words in mind:
- Conservative: This care is as simple as possible and is used most often. It does not invade the tissue of the face, joint, or jaw.
- Reversible: This does not cause permanent or irreversible changes to the structure or position of the jaw or teeth.
Due to the fact that most TMD problems are temporary and do not worsen, there are things you can often do yourself to help ease the discomfort.
- Eat soft food for a time. Avoid chewy things like bagels and steak. Go for fish, rice, and oatmeal.
- Try not to over use or overextend your jaw. Avoid yawning, singing loudly, and chewing gum.
- Use heat or ice packs or alternate them. This can help reduce swelling.
- Learn special stretching exercise you can do to help alleviate the pain.
How TMD Can Be Related to the Neck
It has been seen that many suffering from TMD also experience neck pain. Even if this is not the case with you, your TMD may be due to a misalignment in the top bones of your neck, particularly the C1 and C2 vertebrae. This could be the result of an accident or injury even if it occurred a long time ago. It may not even be something you are able to recall. The bones in this area of the neck are susceptible to misaligning. It could be something as simple as a trip and fall to something as severe as an automobile accident that causes the misalignment. A study observed 89 TMD patients and a number of them recalled having some type of injury prior to the onset of TMD. This shows a clear link between head and neck trauma and TMD. This kind of misalignment can negatively impact the muscles of the jaw, neck, and face, leading to TMD. By correcting this problem, the swelling, pain, and numbness of TMD may go away.
Upper cervical chiropractors are specially trained to find these small misalignments in the upper spine and then work to correct them through a gentle, precise method. We do not have to resort to cracking or twisting the spine to get positive results. Many of our patients see a relief of the symptoms of TMD in just a short time.