Have you ever heard your jaw pop? Most likely, that noise came from the tempromandibular joint (TMJ). The TMJ is the joint between the skull and mandible, which is the lower, movable, portion of the jaw. The TMJ is located just in front of the ear. It is estimated at as many as 85-90% of people will experience some problem with their TMJ during their life.
The TMJ is a unique joint because of its structure. The TMJ has ligaments and a joint capsule similar to the fingers, but it also has a disc inside of the joint. The disc is essential to smooth opening and closing of the TMJ. This unique joint structure allows the TMJ to rotate open and closed, and glide forward, backward, and from side to side.
What makes you more likely to develop TMJ problems? Habits including clenching the teeth, grinding the teeth, biting the nails, chewing a toothpick, or chewing gum all seem to increase the chances for developing TMJ problems. TMJ problems are more common in women, but the reason for this is unclear. TMJ problems are also associated with dental problems such as unilateral or bilateral crossbite. Dental problems that change how the TMJ closes are the most problematic. TMJ problems are also more common in violin and viola players. This is most likely due to the way the jaw is used to stabilize the instrument during use.
All of the factors that increase the chances of TMJ activate the muscles surrounding the TMJ. Over time, these muscles can become chronically tight and tense. These tight muscles place strain on the TMJ, and can even change the way the TMJ moves. Improper motion can lead to wear and tear of the disc inside of the TMJ. TMJ disc degeneration is a common cause for popping and clicking as the mouth is opened and closed.
How do you know if you might have a TMJ problem? Do you have pain in front of your ear when chewing? Do you hear popping or clicking when opening your mouth wide? Are you unable to open your mouth more than three fingers width? If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may have a TMJ problem.
If you think you might have a TMJ problem, seek an evaluation from your chiropractor and dentist. Your dentist will examine the teeth, gums, mandible, and TMJ to verify the pain is coming from the TMJ and not the teeth themselves. Your dentist will also evaluate your bite to determine if there are any abnormalities that could complicate or cause TMJ problems. Your dentist may recommend a splint if there are bite abnormalities.
Your chiropractor will evaluate the TMJ, surrounding muscles, and the biomechanics of mouth opening and closing. Your chiropractor will also evaluate the upper neck because studies have shown it is more common to have both TMJ and upper neck problems combined than to have just TMJ problems. Your chiropractor will use muscle stretching to relax any muscles that are too tight, and will perform gentle mobilization to the TMJ or neck to restore proper motion to the joints. You will also be given exercises to retrain the muscles and promote proper opening and closing of the TMJ.
To determine if chiropractic care could help you manage your TMJ, or to speak with a chiropractor in the Edwardsville, IL area, call Dr. Emily Brueggeman at 618-692-0000 . Ask for a free Invitation to Health that includes a consultation and screening to determine if yours is a chiropractic case.