Hey gang, Dr. Lell here. Today I want to talk about TMJ or TMD or Temporomandibular Joint Disorder. It has many surprising symptoms and is often overlooked. When a chronic neck, face, or headache problem just isn’t getting better regardless of what I do, I usually check out the TMJ. You’ll see why in a minute.
A quick spiel on wording. Many people refer to jaw pain/troubles as TMJ, which is an abbreviation for Temporomandibular Joint, the anatomical name of your jaw. So everyone has a TMJ (most people have 2) but not everyone with a TMJ has TMD. TMD is a blanket condition for anything causing or related to jaw pain and dysfunction.
So, what are the symptoms of TMD? Well there are some pretty obvious ones…
- Jaw Pain
- Painful chewing
- Pain or stiffness when opening and closing your mouth
- Jaw clicking or popping
But then there are the symptoms that may surprise you. Symptoms that many clinicians of every variety overlook for some reason. They include:
- Neck Pain
- Face and Eye Pain
- Arm/Shoulder Pain
- Hearing Problems (sounds muffled)
- Ear Problems (ears feel full)
How does this happen? How can something as simple as your jaw cause such a wide variety of seemingly unrelated symptoms? Well it all comes down to location, location, location.
The TMJ is situated near a mess of semi-significant nervous and vascular structures and when the tissues of the TMJ become inflamed or swollen or the joint becomes dysfunctional, they can crowd on those nerves and arteries causing weird symptoms down the line. Muscles of the TMJ also have a rich connection to muscles in other parts of your body by continuous strips of fibrous bands called fascia.
To highlight some examples of the importance of location, a muscle of the jaw called the medial pterygoid can cause tension on another muscle of the inner ear called the tensor veli palatini. This muscle’s job is to allow you inner ear to drain. So tight and clenched jaw muscles can cause ear stuffiness and tinnitus by making the connecting ear muscle dysfunctional. How can TMD cause dizziness? The jaw has a disc; kind of like in your spine. If this disc becomes inflamed or swollen, it can press on a bundle of nerves called the vestibular nucleus; this nucleus has many jobs including helping you keep your sense of balance.
TMJ Treatment Options
There are many treatment options for TMD; a condition that both Chiropractors and Dentists excel at treating. For the mild to moderate cases that I typically see, treatment can include…
- Myofascial therapy to inner jaw muscles to relax them
- Gentle adjusting of the TMJ to free up motion and help the disc
- Adjusting of the upper neck which gives the jaw greater mobility
- Home exercises and stretches to speed up recovery
- Therapeutic ultrasound or laser to decrease local inflammation
More severe cases can often be treated by dentists with injections or bite realignment procedures.
If you think your weird symptoms could be due to TMD; schedule an appointment online. If you have any topic requests, comments, or questions, you can always drop me a line on Facebook. Until next time, remember to eat well and move often.
Yours in health,
Sung-Wong, C. Inflammation of TMJ Increases Neural Activity in Rat Vestibular Nucleus. Neuroscience Letters. 2012, 528:2
Rugh, JD. Phycological Implications of in Tempormandibular Pain and Dysfunction. Oral Sciences Review. 1976, 7:3-30.
Photo taken from Dr. Pahadwala’s presentation on slideshare.net