The term TMJ refers to the jaw joints on either side of your face. TMJ is an abbreviation for temporomandibular joint since it connects the temporal bone of the skull with the mandible, or lower part of your jaw. Temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJD, is the umbrella term for the many problems that can arise concerning the jaw. It is estimated that between 5% and 12% of people are affected by TMJD, with women suffering twice as much as men.
Perhaps one of the reasons why there are so many people experiencing issues with their TMJ is that it is one of the most complex joints in the body. The jaw joint is made up of the two bones that join together to form the joint itself, an articular disc made of cartilage, a fluid-filled joint capsule, and all of the muscles that stabilize the jaw and give it the ability to move. To work properly, the jaw must be able to both hinge open and closed, and glide forwards and backwards as well as from side to side. No other joint in the body was designed to work this way.
What Can Be Causing My Jaw Pain?
TMJ disorders can have several origins, including:
- Wearing out of the articular disc
- Arthritic damage to the cartilage of the joint
- Injury to the jaw from a direct blow
- Dental problems
- Stress can lead to clenching of the jaw or grinding of the teeth, causing pain and discomfort
- Misalignment of the jaw causing improper opening and closing of the mouth
While there are many possibilities, the truth is that in many cases, the cause of TMJD is unclear. This could be that many people’s jaw problems seem to come and go, so they never seek out appropriate treatment. While it’s good that the pain may seem to self-resolve, if the underlying cause of the problem is never addressed, then chances are the symptoms will continue to reappear over time.
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Symptoms of a TMJ Disorder
Pain is not the only sign that you have a problem with your jaw. Other symptoms of jaw dysfunction include:
- Earaches or tinnitus (ringing in the ear)
- Vertigo or dizziness
- Difficulty chewing
- Pain with talking
- Aching facial pain
- Clicking or popping in one or both sides of your jaw joints
- Locking of the jaw, making it hard to open and close your mouth
- Grinding of the teeth, also called bruxism
Your Jaw and Your Neck are Connected
Your neck is made up of seven cervical vertebrae and all of the soft tissues that lend support to the spine. Two unique vertebrae, your atlas (C1) and axis (C2) sit just underneath the base of your skull and make up your upper cervical spine. The atlas directly supports the weight of your head and is responsible for the majority of its freedom of movement. If you can picture this area, you’ll notice that it is located just behind the ears and actually very close to the TMJ on either side of your face. This is one of the reasons why upper cervical chiropractic has helped many people with TMJ pain and discomfort achieve lasting relief. Once upper cervical misalignments are corrected, the jaw is able to function normally again.
The other side of that equation has to do with your body’s central nervous system (CNS). The brainstem is what connects your brain to the spinal cord below. It rests in the canal formed by the atlas and axis. From the brainstem branches what are known as cranial nerves. Your trigeminal nerve (cranial nerve 5) and facial nerve (cranial nerve 7) both play important roles in jaw function and pain. The trigeminal nerve gives sensation to the face, and it also gives strength and movement to the muscles that control the jaw. The facial nerve allows you to move the muscles of your face, including the ones that open and close the mouth. A misaligned or subluxated atlas can interrupt normal brainstem function and prevent those nerves from communicating properly, resulting in disorders of the TMJ and jaw pain.
Many of the symptoms associated with TMJD may also be connected with upper cervical subluxation. Things such as headaches, earaches, tinnitus, and vertigo can all potentially have their roots in an irritation of the brainstem created by an atlas misalignment.
Is Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care for Me?
Upper cervical chiropractic care is different. It is a small subspecialty within the chiropractic profession that has the specific focus on the upper two vertebrae in the neck. If you have chronic TMJ issues that haven’t resolved with other care options, then it is certainly possible that you have an uncorrected upper cervical subluxation. This becomes an even likelier possibility if you have ever had any type of head or neck injury. Many TMJD sufferers, when questioned, can recall either some kind of auto accident or sports injury that preceded their jaw problems. We are there to make the connection between an upper cervical issue and your jaw pain. We do this with detailed and thorough analyses that give us specific information about the nature of your particular atlas misalignment. Part of what makes upper cervical chiropractic stand apart is that each person’s adjustment is unique to their needs and designed to hold in place for as long as possible. Upper cervical adjustments are also very gentle and don’t require any forceful twisting or popping of the neck to achieve the desired result. To see if your jaw pain may be related to an upper cervical subluxation, we always offer a free consultation so you can learn more.
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if you are outside of the local area you can find an Upper Cervical Doctor near you at www.uppercervicalawareness.com.