Chiropractic and TMJ
By Dr. Sonia Marques
Although chiropractic is not typically the first thing that comes to mind when you hear TMJ, chiropractic treatment is a viable conservative option for TMJ pain and TMD (temporomandibular disorder).
First things first, what is the TMJ? The temporomandibular joint is a hinge that connects the lower jaw to the temporal bones of the skull, which are in front of each ear. The TMJ, which can rotate and move forward, backward and side to side, is considered one of the most complex joints in the body. This joint, in combination with other muscles and ligaments, lets you chew, swallow, speak and yawn. When you have a problem with the muscle, bone or other tissue in the area in and around the TMJ, you may have a TMD.
Various factors contribute to TMD. By far, the most common cause is clenching and grinding. With the increased levels of stress everyone has experienced over the past several months, clenching has become more prevalent and as a result TMD cases have increased. Other causes of TMD include ill-fitting dental devices (crowns, dentures, fillings, etc.), trauma, inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and gout and hereditary issues.
Many times, TMD goes undiagnosed because the symptoms may not include the obvious jaw pain or clicking that people associate with TMJ dysfunction. Headaches, particularly in the temples, neck/face pain and ear pain are common symptoms of TMD. Difficulty chewing and opening/closing your mouth may also be symptoms. These are a few symptoms that may be constant or that come and go.
Many patients with TMDs get better by themselves without any treatment. To help ease sore jaw muscles, place a cold or warm compress to your jaw and gently massage your jaw muscles. Eat a soft diet, cut food into small pieces and avoid hard, chewy or sticky foods. Try not to open your mouth too wide, even when you yawn. And most importantly, relax your jaw muscles.
When you are relaxed, your teeth should be slightly apart and your tongue should rest on the floor of your mouth with your lips barely touching or slightly apart. There should be a slight space between your upper and lower teeth except during chewing, speaking or swallowing.
If TMD persists, is not showing signs of improvement or if the pain is severe despite your best efforts, treatments like chiropractic care can be very effective. Myofascial release, active release therapy, palliative modalities and gentle instrument-assisted chiropractic adjustments are a few of the techniques that can address and correct the joint and tissue dysfunction. Other possible contributing causes, like poor posture and forward head carriage, would also be assessed and proper treatments and exercises/stretches would be recommended.