The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is located in front of each ear, forming the connection between the lower jaw and the skull. These are complex hinges that give the lower jaw vertical, horizontal and rotational mobility. We use these joints thousands of times a day for the many things we open our mouths to do, such as smiling, laughing, speaking, eating, and yawning.
TMJ dysfunction can cause pain in the joint as well as in the associated muscles that help control jaw movement. TMJ pain and limited jaw mobility are the most significant issues people experience with these disorders, which are most common in women between 20 and 40 years old but can affect people of any age or either sex. While not necessarily serious, TMJ dysfunction can impede one's quality of life and can end up developing into significant, long-term problems.
TMJ pain, which is often experienced along with an audible clicking or grating sensation when opening the mouth, can be confused with other issues such as toothache, earache, or sinus pain.
People who are ultimately diagnosed with TMJ pain often report the following symptoms:
The causes of TMJ dysfunction are complicated and unclear. These disorders can be caused by multiple factors or occur on their own. Often, they present along with other health conditions, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and sleep disorders. People who are more sensitive to pain and have elevated responses to stress may be more affected by TMJ pain.
Osteoarthritis, generally associated with aging, can lead to dysfunction of the TMJ. Rheumatoid arthritis can bring on TMJ issues, especially in children.
TMJ dysfunction can be caused by injury to the jaw, including dislocation, injury to the mandibular condyle, a rounded projection on the jaw to which the TMJ attaches, or erosion of the articular disc, which interacts with the TMJ to ensure smooth movement. Poorly positioned teeth may also cause TMJ dysfunction and pain.
Clenching or grinding teeth can contribute to or intensify TMJ pain. Poor posture in the muscles of the neck and upper back or stress that leads to tense muscles can both cause neck strain and problems with jaw muscles.
Upper cervical care, which focuses on the spine's upper two vertebrae (the atlas and the axis), can help you deal with TMJ dysfunction and its symptoms. The most mobile parts of the spine, the atlas and the axis are susceptible to misalignment, which can disrupt communication between the brain and the body.
The cranial nerves involved that could have pressure on them are the fifth cranial nerve (trigeminal) and the seventh cranial nerve (facial). Both are involved in function and sensation in the jaw and mouth area. These nerves go directly through the inferior brainstem, which are surrounded by the atlas and axis bones. Upper cervical care can restore this communication and let the body heal itself.
To schedule a consultation to see how upper cervical chiropractic care may help your TMJ pain, please contact our office today.