TMD is not one disorder but rather a group of conditions that are often quite painful. They impact the temporomandibular joint or TMJ joint (the main joint of the jaw) and the muscles that help with chewing and talking. TMD is seen to be more prevalent in women than in men.
TMD is a little-understood condition, leaving researchers and those suffering from TMD struggling for answers. It is still a mystery as to what causes it, how to care for it, and what can be done to prevent it.
Main Types of TMD
There are three major categories that TMD falls into. They are:
- Degenerative joint disease: osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis of the joint
- Myofascial pain: the most common form of TMD manifested as discomfort or pain in the muscles that control the jaw function, the neck, and the shoulder muscles.
- Internal derangement of the joint: a dislocated jaw, displaced disc, or injury to the condyle
You may experience one or more of these conditions at the same time. Researchers are looking into how behavioral, physical, and psychological factors come together and lead to TMD. This will make it easier to find a way to care for this condition.
The Temporomandibular Joint
To find your temporomandibular joint (TMJ), place your fingers just in front of your ears and open and close your mouth. You will feel the joint on each side of your head. The TMJ connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the temporal bone on the side of the head. Because the jaw is designed to be flexible, it easily moves up and down and from side to side, allowing us to talk, yawn, and chew. The muscles that are surrounding the jaw joint keep it in place and allow it to move freely. As we open our mouths, the condyles (the rounded ends of the lower jaw) slide along the joint socket of the temporal bone and then back to the original position when we close our mouths. In order for this movement to remain as smooth as possible, a soft disc is located between the condyle and temporal bone and absorbs shocks from chewing and other jaw activities.
Thankfully, pain in this area generally does not indicate a serious underlying issue. It is often temporary and happens in cycles with the pain often going away on its own with little or no care. However, a small number of people do develop long-term symptoms that can become severe.
What Causes TMD?
Severe injury to the jaw or TMJ can cause TMD to occur. For example, being hit hard in the jaw can fracture bones, damage the disc, or cause other problems that disrupt the smooth motion of the jaw, leading to pain and locking. Other reasons can be arthritis in the joint or orthodontic procedures, such as braces. Disc problems can be to blame, especially if the disc has become displaced. Stress has been seen to aggravate TMD. People who grind their teeth at night or clench their jaws are more likely to get TMD.
Is Surgery the Best Option for TMD?
When it comes to caring for TMD, surgery is often the last option. Doctors will more than likely put you through a regiment to try to help you care for your condition before even thinking about surgery. In some cases, it is absolutely necessary. One of these cases had to do with Lynn Egan, who suddenly got a horrible pain in her jaw and was unable to open her mouth more than a fingers width. Come to find out, the cartilage in her jaw was completely messed up. A bony bridge had formed between the base of her skull and the outside of her jaw. She underwent the first total alloplastic reconstruction of the TMJ performed in Northern Colorado. She reports feeling fine and no longer has any pain.
Other Care Options
Most people do not have to undergo surgery for the TMD. Some things you can try at home to reduce the pain associated with TMD and help it heal quicker are:
- Choose soft foods over chewy and hard foods for a few weeks.
- Do some jaw stretching and exercises.
- Avoid opening the jaw very wide to sing or yawn.
Taking Care of the Underlying Cause
NUCCA upper cervical chiropractic care, such as that practiced here at Symmetry Health Chiropractic Center, focuses on making sure the top bones of the neck are in proper alignment. The C1 and C2 vertebrae easily move out of place due to their mobility and position. These bones are what allow the head to move freely about and they also support its weight. If they are out of alignment by just a little bit, they can cause a number of problems throughout the body, including problems with the jaw. This is due to the fact that this part of the neck is closely related to the nerves and muscle function of not just the face but also the neck. A misalignment in the area of the neck can be the reason for jaw pain. Not surprisingly, neck pain often accompanies TMD.
We use a gentle method to encourage the bones of the neck to move back into proper position. We do not have to resort to popping or cracking the spine and neck to get positive results. The technique used allows the bones to move more naturally into their original place, resulting in a longer-lasting adjustment. Once the bones have moved back into place, many find relief from the pain of TMD without the need for invasive surgery or even pain-relieving medications.
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