Your TMJ, the joint of your jaw, slides and hinges to give you the ability to speak, chew, and yawn. You have one TMJ, or temporomandibular joint, on each side of your face located just in front of your ear. For people who have jaw disorders, or TMJD, normal daily activities like chewing food or talking can become uncomfortable and painful. Problems can occur with the jaw joints themselves, the muscles that control jaw movement, or the cartilage disc within the TMJ.
What is the TMJ?
TMJ is an abbreviation for temporomandibular joint. You actually have two TMJ’s – one on each side of your face. The temporomandibular joints connect the lower part of your jaw, the mandible, to the temporal bone of the skull on either side of your head. People who develop problems with jaw function can experience a variety of symptoms, including:
- jaw pain
- aching muscles in the face
- clicking sounds from the jaw
- locking of the jaw
- neck pain
- sensitive teeth
- bruxism (grinding the teeth)
Common TMJ Treatment Options
Taking care of persistent TMJ disorders often takes a predictable course. TMJD treatments usually fall into three categories:
- Medication – pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications are usually the first courses of action when it comes to alleviating the pain of TMJD and its associated symptoms. When over-the-counter medications don’t relieve jaw pain, prescription pain medication or muscle relaxants might be recommended.
- Therapies – The most common therapy is an oral splint or mouth guard, usually made for the patient by their dental professional. This device is worn over the teeth, which can protect the enamel from wearing thin due to grinding. Physical therapy might help with balancing the musculature of the jaw, along with heat or ice therapy. Other therapies might include tools to reduce stress or other behaviors that can contribute to clenching the jaw.
- More Invasive Procedures – when conservative measures to care for TMJD do not provide the desired relief, then more invasive treatment options might be recommended. Steroid injections into the jaw joints might temporarily help with inflammation. Other procedures involve the use of needles to remove debris or inflammation from the TMJ, arthroscopic surgery, or other surgical interventions to try and improve jaw function.
Tools for Safe & Natural TMJD Care
Before considering more invasive options or relying on long-term medication use for pain relief, trying one or more of the following suggestions can stand to help:
- Massage or gently stretch the jaw – sometimes jaw pain can arise from the muscles that are responsible for controlling jaw movement. Learning gentle stretches or ways to massage tight jaw muscles might help to provide some relief.
- Break bad telephone habits – without realizing it, many people have a habit of holding their phone between their ear and shoulder to free up their hands. If you do this either at work or home, investing in a headset or using speakerphone is an easy solution that can save your neck and jaw.
- Work to reduce stress – nighttime bruxism, or grinding of the teeth, can be a big problem for TMJD sufferers. Establishing a routine that includes relaxation before it’s time to go to bed can reduce stress and anxiety, which might help to prevent nighttime grinding.
- Give your jaw a rest – giving your jaw a break can give it time to heal. Eating a diet of soft, easy to chew foods and avoiding things like gum chewing might help to reduce pain.
- Monitor your posture – good posture can be hard to maintain, especially if you’re not used to it. It is becoming increasingly better known that poor posture and TMJD are connected. If you’re sitting, make sure that your workstation or vehicle seat is set up optimally, and when you’re standing try to focus on standing tall and avoid slouching.
- Get your neck checked – Neck pain and jaw pain are often related which makes sense given that the head is perched on top of your spine and the TMJ connects the mandible with the head. If the spinal alignment of your neck is off and the weight of your head can’t be carried properly, your jaw will eventually follow suit.
Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care and TMJD
If you deal with chronic pain and problems with your jaw, you might be surprised to learn that the underlying problem can actually be found in your neck. If you place your finger on top of your TMJ just in front of your ear and trace it back towards the back of your head, you will pass right over your atlas vertebra, the uppermost one in your neck. It’s easy to neglect the fact that the spine and the jaw sit in such close proximity to one another. Research shows that the neck and jaw are linked in several ways:
- they sit very close together anatomically speaking
- they biomechanically work together
- they are neurological connected
For some, this will turn on a lightbulb right away, as their jaw pain is often accompanied by neck pain and headaches.
Having your neck checked specifically by an upper cervical chiropractor might help TMJD sufferers find the lasting, natural relief option they’ve been looking for. An atlas misalignment causes a cascade of issues, all of which can influence jaw function. The atlas sits very closely to the TMJ and even a small misalignment can disturb the resting position of the jaw and can irritate nerves that control the muscles of the jaw and face. A gentle correction to the atlas vertebra can restore normal head position and ease pressure on the TMJ.