The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a very under looked joint. The TMJ is one of the only joints where dysfunction can unilaterally affect one whole side of the body from top to bottom, often in the form of multiple muscle weaknesses on one side of the body. This is due to the proximity the TMJ has to the brain. Many people have TMJ dysfunction without noticing any symptoms yet, or, at least pain.
The TMJ actually has its own disc. This is what patients with TMJ dysfunction commonly hear clicking when opening and shutting their jaw. It is usually an anterior displacement of the disc that is problematic. When surrounding muscles are too tight, they do not allow jaw relaxation to occur, thus not leaving enough space for disc movement. A fun fact is that it requires more muscles to close your jaw than it does to open it. Your jaw closing is a muscular act of strength, but opening your jaw is more of an action of relaxation. Clicking, snapping, or popping are common things that patients complain of when they come to the chiropractor for this dysfunction. Pain may or may not be present with TMJ dysfunction. However, a symptomatic person may be experiencing headaches, facial pain, and alterations in the entire stomatognathic system, which is the anatomical system of the teeth, jaw, and associated soft tissues.
There are certain things that might irritate or bring on TMJ symptoms. Chronic gum chewing is towards the top of the list as far as aggravators are concerned. The constant motion of the jaw going up and down can cause TMJ issues. Clenching the teeth at nighttime is another top aggravator. Some other aggravators include but are not limited to: injuries, sports, and accidents.
A proper evaluation will be performed by our chiropractors. The evaluation will include observing asymmetry of the face. We will be looking for concavities/convexities at the mid hair line, tip of nose, to the tip of the chin. We will also be checking for snapping in the jaw with opening and closing. Muscles that are part of the system will be evaluated. Some of these main muscles include: temporalis, masseter, buccinator, internal pterygoid, and external pterygoid. The masseter is the strongest muscle involved in any clenching movement. The buccinator works with the masseter as friends helping to close the jaw. The external pterygoid is one of the few muscles that open the jaw. Part of the evaluation is looking for tenderness in not only these muscles, but in the skull as well. Our chiropractors will also look for any hints of the body cheating whether it be a postural deviation or other breakdown of patterns.
Our chiropractors will then perform treatment based on what they find in the evaluation. Tight muscles will be addressed with release techniques done by hand. Some of these techniques are even done inside the patient’s mouth. Whenever the TMJ is being addressed, cranial will also be worked on by our chiropractors due to the connection between the two. Usually homework will be assigned with the goal of helping to prevent tension buildup in the muscles. On occasion, additional therapy, usually ultrasound, will also be prescribed by the chiropractor for the chiropractic technicians to perform with the patient after the patient’s appointment with the chiropractor concludes.