Does it hurt when you chew? Do you have pain or soreness in front of the ear, in your jaw muscles or around the temples? Do you find it difficult to open your mouth wide? Does your jaw ever get stuck/locked as you open it (yawning)? Do you experience clicking or popping noises in the jaw that are loud enough to bother you?
If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, you may have Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJD). TMJD is a group of conditions, often painful, that affect the muscles of mastication (chewing) and one or both of the joints of the jaw. Many people just suffer with the symptoms of TMJD and a select few brave the unpredictable results of surgery. The most common reason for unsuccessful TMJ surgery is a failure to eliminate the underlying cause of the problem in addition to the obvious pathology.
At Quantum Chiropractic our success with TMJ treatment comes from our ability to address the underlying dysfunction. Dr. Shearer has trained extensively with the leading TMJD expert in the chiropractic profession, Alex Vidan D.C. Dr. Vidan has developed a safe and effective method of evaluating and treating TMJD. To ensure your case is being managed thoroughly, Dr. Shearer will co-manage your care along with your oral physician.
What Is TMJD and How to Treat It
A common condition, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ, or TMJD), is inflammation, or mechanical impairment, of one or both jaw joints. The pain caused by TMJD can range from mild to severe, and often extends to other areas of the body, such as the ears, head or shoulders. TMJD is often temporary, but left untreated, can become chronic. Whether short or long -term, it can inhibit life’s simple pleasures, from eating a delicious meal, to chatting with a friend or even, kissing a loved one.
For those with TMJD the first question may be, how did I get this, followed quickly by, how do I make it stop? Diminishment of TMJD and its symptoms is possible, and a chiropractor may be able to help.
What Causes TMJD?
The joints on either side of the head, directly in front of each ear, are called the temporomandibular, or jaw joints. These joints work in unison to connect the mandible (lower jaw bone) to the temporal bones of the skull, on both sides of the head. The muscles which control each jaw joint are attached to the lower jaw bone and work to control the jaw’s full range of motion. When the jaw bones stop working in sync with each other, or, if there is inflammation in the muscles or surrounding area, TMJD can result.
According to the TMJ Association, the causes of TMJD are not completely understood, yet the disorder affects around 12 percent of the U.S. population. TMJD also occurs more often in women than in men, and typically, during child-bearing age.
TMJD can manifest without an apparent or obvious cause, but is associated with a number of behaviors and risk factors, which sometimes overlap. These include:
- Bruxism, or grinding of the teeth, typically during sleep
- Spending long amounts of time holding a phone in place with a hunched-up shoulder
- Habitual gum chewing or chewing the inside of the cheek incessantly
- A jaw injury or infection
- Dental surgery, such as the removal of impacted wisdom teeth and other procedures
- Having a tube inserted for breathing, such as during surgery or for other recuperative reasons
- Genetic factors
TMJD is also sometimes associated with other diagnoses. These include:
- Autoimmune disease
Common TMJ Symptoms
There is no one, specific test for diagnosing TMJD, and since symptoms can range from moderate to severe and also vary from person to person, getting a diagnosis is not always simple or clear cut. Many people suffer with TMJD-related symptoms for a long time prior to receiving the correct diagnosis. Others are told that the pain is “all in their head,” and that it will go away, eventually, on its own. Symptoms to look out for include:
- Tightness or pain in the jaw
- Pain, discomfort or difficulty while chewing or talking
- Neck pain
- Shoulder pain.
- Popping and grinding noises, or sensations, when the mouth opens and closes
How to Treat TMJD
If you think you have TMJD, it is your right to receive treatment which can help. A first, good step is to become your own advocate, and to seek out professional advice which feels comforting and respectful, as well as to try different treatments until you find what works best for you.
At-home therapies are often very effective in combating the symptoms associated with TMJD, and are a good place to start. It also makes sense to diminish any behaviors which might be a factor, such as loud singing, hunching the shoulders or tilting the head in order to cradle a phone or other device, and gum chewing.
The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research recommend starting with several, first-line-of-defense treatments at home. Some of these include:
- Applying ice packs to the affected area
- Eating a soft-food diet and avoiding hard-to-chew foods, like steak and popcorn
- Taking over-the-counter pain medication, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Stress reduction, through yoga, meditation, deep breathing or light exercise, like walking or swimming
Some people benefit from using a bit guard or similar type of oral device. These are typically fitted and made available through a dentist’s office.
When considering treatment, take into account that the TMJ Association strongly recommends avoiding any type of irreversible procedure, such as TMJ surgery, getting implants, or bite-altering orthodontics (occlusal adjustment) as a treatment. They also recommend avoiding Botox injections, as these have not been FDA approved as effective for TMJD.
How Can Chiropractic Care Help TMJD?
Dr. Shearer or Dr. Detwiler may recommend to use a specific chiropractic technique, the Activator Method, which has been indicated as able to improve quality of life and diminish pain and other symptoms in individuals with this diagnosis. A small study, “Chiropractic treatment of temporomandibular disorders using the activator adjusting instrument: a prospective case series,” run at the Palmer Center for Chiropractic Research, and published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, reported positive results, indicating that the Activator Method helped patients achieve an increased ability to open their mouths with less pain, and overall improvement with this condition.
Trigger point therapy (TPT) may also be used by a chiropractor, either alone, or in conjunction with other treatments. TPT may help to realign the jaw joints and reduce inflammation in the surrounding area by identifying trigger points of tight, inflamed muscle fibers and alleviating the tension associated with them.
Multiple, peer-reviewed studies consistently indicate that chiropractic treatment can be effective for alleviating the pain of TMJD, and may also help to reduce, or eliminate, its reoccurrence.
TMJD can be highly distressing, reducing quality of life and creating daily pain. Chiropractic care has been indicated to help many people suffering with this disorder, either on its own, or in conjunction with other forms of treatment. As your own advocate, it may make sense for you to explore these options with a licensed chiropractor. A pain-free life, and a return to enjoying its simple pleasures, may very well result.