If you are experiencing jaw pain, jaw discomfort, jaw clicking, jaw popping, grinding sounds in the jaw area, difficulty chewing, jaw locking, or headaches then you may be suffering from a condition called temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ or TMD).
Where is the TMJ and what does it look like?
If you follow your chin on each side, all the way by your ear and leave your finger there, then open and close your mouth, you will see the joint under your finger move; that is your TMJ or the Temporomandibular joint. This joint is what allows your mouth to open, close, and move from side to side. There are a few muscles that are attached to the joint that not only allows you to open and close your mouth but also to forcibly bite down hard and/or force your mouth to stay closed even if someone tries to open your mouth. This joint is different from all of the other joints in your body in that it hinges and slides. The bones in the joints are covered with cartilage and they have a shock-absorbing disk between them. This disk helps keep your jaw moving smoothly.
What Causes Jaw Pain?
There are many different causes of jaw pain with the most serious and least common being heart attack!! This form of jaw pain is due to jaw tightness and is accompanied by chest pain, heavy arms, shortness of breath, coughing, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, sweating, arm pain, and/or back pain. This type of jaw pain lasts several minutes and usually occurs in the lower jaw.
The trigeminal nerve, one of the nerves within your skull, innervates the temporomandibular joint. When this nerve is irritated or inflamed, it can cause a condition known as Trigeminal Neuralgia which creates pain in the face and jaw.
One of the more painful cause for jaw pain is when it is under attack in an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases are due to a malfunction with your body’s immune system. This malfunction forces your body to attack parts of itself. A different autoimmune disease can attack different parts of your body whether it is joints, muscles, organs, or something else. When the jaw joint is attacked by an autoimmune disease, it is not only painful but also show redness and swelling of the joint. Most of the time, the jaw is so painful that you cannot even move it. It is important to seek treatment early if you show signs of jaw pain with redness and swelling because it can cause lots of damage if not caught and treated early.
Bacteria or viruses can attack the TMJ. These infections cause redness, swelling, and pain in addition to fever, chills, headache, and/or fatigue. Your TMJ joint may also feel hot to the touch. This is a potential emergency case and if untreated can cause a much more severe infection, leading to sepsis.
The strain on the muscles attached to the Temporomandibular joint is another cause of jaw pain. This typically occurs at a dental office and from a dental procedure when the mouth has been open for too long or shifted to one side vs the other for a long time.
A more common cause of jaw pain is stress and irritation to the temporomandibular joint due to repetitive motions. For example, this can be caused by chewing gum, clenching your teeth together, or grinding your teeth. A little side note here has to do with teeth grinding. While teeth guard may protect the teeth at night (though in many cases, the grinding is bad enough that the person grinds through the guard still) is due to the neck misalignment. I will just leave it at that because this blog is about TMJ and not teeth grinding!
By far, the most common cause of jaw pain is the misalignment of the upper neck. The bones at the top of your neck are located right behind the jaw bone. When they are out of alignment, they can prevent the jaw joint from moving like it is supposed to. The tension and irritation of the soft tissue surrounding the area lead to stress within the joint and pain. Many suffer from headaches because once again, these muscles are in close proximity to the muscles in the back of the neck and with a Tension headache being the most common type of headaches, it is the matter of which came first, chicken or egg!! Night time teeth grinding is inevitable in these instances and constant tension and pressure experienced throughout the day is no easy matter either. In the blog I wrote on Disc Herniation, I discuss the pathogenesis, the disease path of Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis. In any joint, if the proper movement does not occur, the ground for wear and tear opens up. The excess wear and tear means Osteoarthritis and this type of arthritis has nothing to do with your age.
How Can I treat my jaw pain?
Clearly, if you are having jaw pain along with the symptoms I wrote above, don’t read the rest! Call 911!
Stop chewing gum if you have jaw pain or discomfort.
Stress management by having quiet time, meditation, guided visualization, journaling, planning your day to tackle tasks are always helpful. Don’t forget that no stress is managed without entertaining the foods you eat. An unhealthy body, cannot manage stress well.
If your jaw pain and discomfort is from grinding your teeth, see your Chiropractor. Yes, chiropractors adjust every joint in the body even the TMJ! I typically release the tension in the muscles attached including the ones that are only approached from the inside. I use ART or Active Release Technique of the jaw to release some of the tension of the muscles and restore proper and orderly movement of the muscles in opening and closing of the jaw as well as the side to side moves.
Cold laser is a great way to reduce inflammation in the joint and in my practice, I use it on every visit at the beginning of the treatment.
Adjustment of the neck and upper back are a must. Imagine stacking a bunch of blocks when one, only one block is not set in alignment with the rest. Misalignment in the neck means the head is no longer going to be sitting on top of the neck evenly. Your head and face and in this case, your Temporomandibular joint are directly impacted by the misalignment. Take a look at your picture albums! if you see your head tilted to one side vs the other in most pictures, then you are showing the preliminary signs of TM joint dysfunction if you are not having pain already. Here is a video I did on this very subject.
In my Brain Based Neurology and Posture exam, head tilt, jaw pain and headaches are the three musketeers that are seen in many suffering from jaw pain.
When treating jaw pain, I always recommend an increase in Vitamin C and Protein since they are both needed in soft tissue repair.
Remember, nothing in your body is by accident! Even the most subtle signs and symptoms are your body’s way of communicating something about your body’s health. Do not disregard them if they don’t cause pain, if the pain is not bad enough or if you are still able to go about doing your daily routines. The sooner a problem is caught and addressed, the easier it is to fix it. You are the Designer and the Director of your own life so design and direct it the way you wish to live it.
Don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions you may have.