What is the TMJ? The temporomandibular joint is a very important joint in the body which is formed between the skull and the jawbone and includes an array of muscles that are required for chewing and jaw movements. Between the skull bone and the jawbone there is a disc formed of cartilage that allows the two bones to move smoothly over one another. The TMJ acts as a sliding hinge which connects the jawbone to the skull and is responsible for chewing, yawning, up and down movements and side to side gliding of the jaw. Jaw pain, or temporomandibular joint pain is more common than one would think. The incidence of the disorder ranges anywhere from 10-25% of the population with the highest incidence being between the ages of 20-40. Females are 3x more likely to develop a TMJ disorder compared to males.
Risk factors include:
- Trauma to the head, neck or face
- Grinding or clenching the teeth
- Muscle Spasms
- Hypermobility of the TMJ
- Increased stress levels
- Poorly fitting dentures or dental issues
- Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or other degenerative disorders
What causes TMJ pain/disorder? As mentioned above the TMJ includes 2 bones, one cartilaginous disc and an array of muscles, that begin said there is both a left and right temporomandibular joint, so times everything by two! Pain in the jaw joint can be a result of many things. If the muscles surrounding the joint get irritated they can cause pain and dysfunction, the disc located between the skull bone and jawbone can become displaced which can cause multiple issues and, arthritis or other joint diseases can cause discomfort and dysfunction, That being said the three main categories of TMJ pain include:
1) Myofascial or pain in the surrounding muscles including connecting neck and shoulder muscles.
2) Internal derangement or disc displacement or dislocation.
3) Joint degeneration or disc degeneration.
Common Signs and Symptoms of TMJ disorder:
- Pain over the TMJ
- Clicking, popping, locking of the jaw
- Achy pain in and/or around the ear
- Decreased range of motion of the mouth or jaw
- Difficulty chewing or pain while chewing
How does one treat TMJ disorders? There are many conservative steps that can be taken to help decrease pain and manage any dysfunction that may be impacting the temporomandibular joint. These include eating softer foods, avoiding grinding or clenching teeth, wearing your night guard if it has been prescribed by your dentist or doctor. It is also important to avoid any extreme jaw movements, practice techniques and styles for decreasing stress and tension, practice gentle jaw stretching movements, and seek out local therapists who are well versed in TMJ pain and dysfunction. Chiropractors are joint specialists and thus have great success in treating TMJ disorders with the use of soft tissue therapy, intraoral muscle release therapy, spinal manipulations, and temporomandibular joint mobilizations and adjustments.