Pain in the jaw joint and muscles, or temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder (TMJD), is a complaint in many people. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIH) reports that TMJD affects between 5% and 12% of the adult population, with higher prevalence rates in females than males. It is also the second most common cause of orofacial pain, after dental pain, impacting the oral health and quality of life of millions of Americans.
The exact cause of an individual’s TMJ disorder is often difficult to identify. Trauma, whether internal (bruxism and clenching) or external (a punch to the jaw) is most often what causes the inflammation of the membranes surrounding the joint and/or damage to the cartilage disc of the joint. Some people also have jaw pain due to osteoarthritis, which causes a slow progressive loss of cartilage and bone formation in the joint, and rheumatoid arthritis, which erodes and deforms the joint, especially in children. (A combination of problems, such as jaw injury and arthritis, is also possible.)
For most people, the discomfort and pain associated with TMJ disorders can be alleviated with self-managed care and non-invasive treatments. Some must perform certain exercises to strengthen their jaw muscles or use a night guard to decrease clenching and grinding of teeth. Short-term use of over-the-counter medications (analgesics or anti-inflammatory drugs) may also work for pain relief. If these methods are unsuccessful, chiropractic care is also available for those who are looking for an alternative to more invasive treatments.
What Can Your Chiropractor Do for Your Jaw Pain?
Chiropractic care for TMJ disorders aims to ease the pain by identifying and eliminating the misalignments between the central nervous system and the spine. Whether used alone or in combination with other treatments, chiropractic can be effective at easing most TMJ symptoms, including:
- Radiating pain in the face, neck, and shoulders
- Limited range of motion of the jaw
- Painful clicking when opening or closing the mouth
- Headaches, dizziness, hearing problems
Rather than change the diet or alter the bite of the sufferer, chiropractic care works by relaxing the muscles and using specific trigger points to correctly reposition the jaw. Working from both the inside and outside of the mouth, through massage therapy and targeted manipulations, the chiropractor relieves the tension in the muscles around the joints and manipulates trigger points to alleviate the existing pain. When performed successfully by an experienced licensed chiropractor, these techniques will not only decrease the current TMJ pain and discomfort, but also prevent it from returning.
Diagnosis and Treatment of TMJ with Chiropractic
To confirm or rule out temporomandibular joint disorder, your chiropractor will likely ask you to insert three fingers into your mouth and bite down on them. Opening and closing your mouth, as well as chewing while your therapist examines the dimension of the TMJ and the balance of the muscles, may also be required. Loud noises such as popping or clicking, pain or soreness in the cheek or temples, and signs of inflammation will also be noted to help confirm the diagnosis.
If you have TMJD, massage therapy and chiropractic adjustments will be first used to release the tension in your muscles and restore the natural alignment of your spine. Depending on the specifics of your condition, your chiropractor will also teach you to:
- Lessen the pain by applying moist heat and ice, especially after an injury occurred or as the pain is just starting
- Prevent further damage to the jaw joint by avoiding certain foods, such as raw vegetables, nuts, candy, hard rolls, chewy meats, etc.
- Decrease jaw joint irritation by abstaining from certain gestures and behaviors, such as chewing gum, biting nails, sleeping on the affected side, etc.
- Loosen tight muscles by performing TMJ-specific exercises based on your individual needs
- Reduce stress and aid relaxation by performing deep breathing, yoga, massage, etc.
While there are numerous forms of treatment for this painful condition, from pain medications and orthodontic treatments to injections and surgery, chiropractic is the only safe and natural option for long-term pain relief. Depending on the complexity of your condition, chiropractic can be used alone or in conjunction with other treatment approaches. With the help of a skilled, knowledgeable chiropractor, you will be able to find out what is causing muscle imbalances in your TMJ and be on your way towards a pain-free jaw.
About the Author
Dr. Marc Browner is the Founder of iChiropractic and Wellness in Naples, Florida. A graduate of the University of Florida in 1991, he earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life Chiropractic in 1995. In private practice since 1998, Dr. Browner is a member of the Florida Chiropractic Society, the Florida Chiropractic Association, and he attends continuing education seminars, classes, and workshops to remain abreast of the most current treatment methods and technological advances in the field.