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Chiropractic Care for Jaw Pain and TMJ

So what is TMJ syndrome exactly?  TMJ syndrome encompasses many different disorders, the most common by far is a musculoskeletal pain syndrome.  Eighty percent of all TMJ disorders are muscular in nature.  The muscles of mastication have sensory nerve fibers, so when jaw pain is present, it originates from these muscles.  As a result, the best way to treat jaw pain is by treating the involved muscles.

The primary originators of jaw pain are the pterygoid muscles.  Anatomically, these sit in the inside of the mouth, just between the gums and the cheek.  The lateral pterygoids depress the mandible, or in other words, open the mouth, while medial pterygoids assist in closing the mouth.  These muscle can get overworked by excessive chewing (e.g. from chewing gum), biting down on very hard objects, and clenching the jaw.  Jaw clenching, or bruxism, happens unconsciously, often during sleep.

Overworked pterygoid muscles pull on the jaw, leading to a feeling of tightness or jaw pain.  This becomes a vicious cycle as it leads to an abnormal bite further causing tightness.  You can see if you have tight pterygoid muscles by looking in the mirror, smiling so that your teeth show, and then slowly opening your mouth to completion.  If you see your jaw deviate to one side or the other during jaw opening, you have tight pterygoid muscles.  Very often people with TMJ syndrome have an alteration in deviation of the jaw—that is, they will see their jaw move from one side to the other one or more times during opening.  The side that the jaw ends up on is the tighter and thus dysfunctional side.

TMJ can cause the following symptoms

  • Jaw pain
  • Ear pain
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Clicking or popping of the jaw on chewing or talking or both
  • Lock jaw
  • Neck pain
  • Headaches
  • Chipped or cracked teeth

Many people with TMJ syndrome present to doctors offices with neck pain that is unresponsive to most traditional treatments (over-the-counter pain medication, chiropractic adjustments, neck massage).  Once TMJ syndrome is diagnosed, there are several ways in which it can be alleviated.

Treating TMJ syndrome

If you have jaw pain, clicking or popping of the jaw, or chronic neck pain or headaches, TMJ syndrome is the likely cause.

You will first receive a full workup including an evaluation of your spine and muscles surrounding the neck.  You will have your jaw and bite evaluated.  Once TMJ syndrome is determined, you will have all your subluxations adjusted.  You will have your neck muscles massaged, stretched and evaluated for weakness.  If muscular weakness is evident, you will receive exercises to correct it.  Your posture will be evaluated and treated if necessary.  Then we will go into the jaw.

Relaxing the tight jaw muscles, the pterygoids, requires going into the mouth with the doctor’s finger.  The muscles are then massaged until they relax.  The good news is that it doesn’t take much to relax them on each session, approximately one minute.  The first couple of sessions can be a little uncomfortable, but over time the muscles become looser, freeing up the jaw.

Once the pterygoid muscles are relaxed, the jaw regains an incredible amount of movement.  The jaw becomes lighter and pain subsides significantly.  Popping and clicking reduce immediately.  Not only do they feel better immediately, the results are lasting, and ultimately it saves money.  The alternatives are less safe, less effective, and include surgery or doing nothing.  Surgery has varied results, and doing nothing ultimately costs more in fixing cracked teeth, crowns and sometimes braces.  Getting treated by a chiropractor is a great, conservative approach, much better than the other two options.

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