Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMJ Dysfunction) is when a person has problems with the joints and muscles around the temporomandibular joint. This joint enables you to speak, chew and yawn; however, when suffering from a TMJ dysfunction, it may cause a series of issues:

  • Neck pain
  • Pain traveling throughout the face, jaw or neck
  • Headaches
  • Earaches
  • Limited movement or locking of the jaw
  • Painful clicking or popping in the jaw
  • Stiff jaw muscles
  • Ringing in the ears
  • A change in how the upper and lower teeth fit together

The skull of TMJ dysfunction is affected because of the connection the skull has to your jaw, creating that pain that goes through the top of your head and creating headaches.  However, a rarer condition of the skull of TMJ dysfunction is the skull-base osteomyelitis. Although your skull can be affected because of the connection it has to your jaw, in this rare condition it affects the medulla of the temporal, sphenoid and occipital bones.

This disease occurs due to ear canal infections caused by malignant external otitis and usually affects elderly diabetic patients. Apart from this rare disease, most of the conditions for TMJ dysfunction fall into three categories: Arthritic TMJ, Myofascial pain dysfunction TMJ, and Internal TMJ derangement.

Arthritic TMJ, or osteoarthritis, is when inflammation associated with arthritis affects your lower jaw joints that may cause pain and discomfort. This is when the articular cartilage breaks down, changing the architecture in the bones and degenerating the synovial tissues leading to pain or disrupting functional movements of your jaw.

Myofascial pain dysfunction TMJ is the most common of the TMJ disorders that can occur in patients with normal temporomandibular joints. This category of TMJ dysfunction causes pain and discomfort in the jaw muscles, neck and head from inflammation in the body’s soft tissues.

Internal TMJ derangement is the most serious category as it is from a disruption within the internal aspects of TMJ where there is a displacement of the disc (TMJ disc dysfunction) that helps the normal functional relationship of the mandibular condyle and the articular portion of the temporal bone. A TMJ disc dysfunction should be treated if your disc is restricting movement and causing you pain. 

While there are different categories of TMJ dysfunction, it is possible for a patient to have more than one of these types simultaneously. When left untreated, the condition worsens with age. Once you find out you have TMJ dysfunction, it is best to act on it right away to be safe. While some conditions do not develop beyond being an annoyance, this condition can progress rapidly and dramatically damage your jaw joints.

In addition, a percentage of TMJ patients get tonsillitis in TMJ dysfunction. Tonsillitis is when the tonsils are inflamed. You may notice some signs of this if you have swollen tonsils, a sore throat, difficulty swallowing and/or tender lymph nodes. Tonsillitis in TMJ dysfunction is an infection and, although rare, sometimes tonsillitis can cause the throat to swell so much that breathing becomes difficult. If this occurs, it is recommended to get help right away.

Trismus and TMJ Dysfunction

Trismus is when your jaw muscles spasm and cause your mouth to remain tightly closed. This is often under-diagnosed and left untreated. For patients who experience trismus, this spasm which creates a locked jaw can happen gradually or very suddenly. Trismus and TMJ dysfunction have a connection, and trismus can be caused by having a TMJ dysfunction.

TMJ Dysfunction in Newborns

It is important to realize the chance of TMJ dysfunction in newborns is possible and how to determine if a newborn may have TMJ dysfunction. In a 1993 study, 1,000 newborns were observed and treated (ages one hour to 21 days) for failure and/or difficulty with breast feeding. They found 800 of the newborns (80% of the 1,000) had birth induced TMJ dysfunction.

All of the newborns were then treated with chiropractic cranial and spinal adjustments without the use of any drugs with excellent results in 99% of the cases. This shows TMJ dysfunction in neonates is not uncommon and the natural process of birth itself can shift the body in a way that dislocates and disrupts natural functions.  

If your child has any of the following symptoms, they may have TMJ dysfunction:

  • Difficulty opening or closing the mouth
  • Ear aches or ringing in the ear
  • Painful clicking or popping in the jaw
  • Swelling around the TMJ
  • Pain when touching the TMJ
  • Lock jaw
  • Jaw asymmetry or malocclusion
  • Asymmetrical jaw opening
  • Jain pain and/or fatigue

What is the Most Common Cause of TMJ Dysfunction?

The most common cause of TMJ Dysfunction is musculoskeletal dysfunction, which is from injuries and/or disorders that affect the human body’s movement or the musculoskeletal system; these injuries can include injury to teeth or jaw. Other causes of TMJ dysfunction include the misalignment of the teeth or jaw, teeth grinding, anxiety, poor posture, arthritis, gum chewing and stress. 

TMJ Dysfunction Massage

TMJ can be the helped with a massage by calming your inflamed muscles around your jaw. Some may find pressure alone gives some pain relief, but only if done correctly and in the right place. This method works well on the mandible muscle, located on the lower portion of the jaw right below the masseter (along your jaw line).

Using your index finger, you can apply a gentle amount of constant pressure to the muscle. While this may take time for some, studies have shown a TMJ dysfunctional massage has greatly improved the symptoms of about 60% to 90% of patients with TMJ dysfunction. During this care, it is also important for the person to keep their jaws from clenching and to improve their head posture.

Although a TMJ dysfunctional massage can be an effective non-medical way for you to be rid of the TMJ pain, if the pain or stiffness is still a problem and does not go away, another non-medical alternative is a chiropractic treatment for TMJ.

Chiropractic Treatment for TMJ

There is a connection between TMJ and parasympathetic system dysfunction. The parasympathetic system relates to the automatic nervous system that communicates to the actions of your nerves. These nerves come from the brain and the lower end of your spinal cord.

It helps your overall functions including digestion, heart rate, blood pressure and urination to name a few. TMJ and parasympathetic system dysfunction are seen to be linked as TMJ patients have a significantly higher dysfunctional nervous system. When the parasympathetic nervous system is normalized, it can have a huge impact on healing TMJ.

TMJ dysfunction and neck misalignments do feed off each other. As you might have noticed earlier, neck pain is involved with TMJ dysfunction and could indicate the TMJ dysfunction is connected to a cervical misalignment. The cervical spine relates to the neck area, around the pain TMJ patients have. In a study published by JBR Journal of Interdisciplinary Medicine and Dental Science in 2016, they have found a significant relationship between TMJ dysfunction and neck pathologies.

It was stated treatment of neck pain should be considered in patients with TMJ symptoms and vice versa. (Contribution of Cervical Spine in Temporomandibular Joint Disorders: A Cross-Sectional Study) Correcting the cervical spine showed great improvement in patients who battle with TMJ dysfunction. 

If you are battling a TMJ dysfunction and neck alignment gets worse, you risk increasing the symptoms and damage of the TMJ dysfunction. Since chiropractic cervical spine treatments correct the nervous system, these corrective adjustments allow the parasympathetic nervous system effectively communicate with your body allowing it to function as it should and heal itself naturally.

References

Contribution of Cervical Spine in Temporomandibular Joint Disorders: A Cross-Sectional Study. JBR Journal of Interdisciplinary Medicine and Dental Science, 15 September 2016.