Jaw pain? Clicking in the jaw? Having trouble chewing hard foods like apples and nuts. Perhaps you have a TMJ problem.
People often ask me if chiropractic can help with TMJ syndrome. The short answer is Yes! Read on to discover how chiropractic helps with TMJ treatment.
First, lets discuss what TMJ syndrome or TMJ dysfunction is. TMJ stands for temporalmandibular joint.
TMJ syndrome is an issue or problem with the jaw joints. A person with TMJ problems may have pain or clicking in the jaw joints or may notice that their jaw deviates or shifts to one side when they open their jaw.
What Causes TMJ Syndrome
TMJ problems can be caused from:
- Trauma to the head and face.
- Trauma to the upper joints of the neck.
- Recent dental work.
The biomechanics of the neck joints at the base of the skull are associated with the jaw biomechanics. As well, the nerves of the upper neck coming from the brain stem relate to the jaws, so if there is a problem nerve function at the upper neck, this can cause jaw issues as well. But, one of the most common reasons for TMJ problems is recent dental work. If you have TMJ problems, you need to ask yourself if you have had recent dental work.
Why is recent dental work relevant? Well, imagine that you are sitting on a dental chair for an hour or an hour and a half and they are doing a procedure on your mouth. Your mouth is wide open and may be jammed open or blocked open with a blocker. You then come out of that position after an hour and a half and you feel like your mouth is restricted and you can’t even move your jaw. This is one of the mechanisms of injury for the TMJ. If you have pain in the jaw, clicking in the jaw, deviation of the jaw, and some recent trauma or dental work or other trauma to your neck or face region, then these are some of the reasons how the TMJ problems could have happened.
How Does a Chiropractor Assess for TMJ Syndrome
As a chiropractor, when we assess for TMJ syndrome we need to asses for the dysfunction of the TMJ joints before we know as a chiropractor if can correct or adjust for it.
So there’s a couple of things that I look for when I have a patient in my office with TMJ complaints.
The first thing I do as a chiropractor is I look for the motion of the jaw to see if the jaw is opening properly or to see if is deviating to one side. With normal jaw motion, the jaw should not deviated to one side or the other. The jaw should track straight when it opens in a normal situation.
When the jaw does deviate to one side upon opening, this test is positive for TMJ dysfunction.
As an example, if the patient opens their jaw and it tracks to the right side, this is positive for a TMJ problem. However, the problem is not only on the right side of the jaw. In fact, the problem is on both the right and the left jaw joint because both sides of the TMJ move together. I’ll explain this in a moment.
The next thing we are going to ask the patient to do is called the Three Finger Test. Normally, if your jaw opens normally and wide and the jaw if functioning well, you should be able to put three stacked fingers into your mouth. This indicates normal jaw motion.
If you can’t put three fingers in your mouth and you have opening up the mouth then this will cause you to fail the Three Finger Test, which is another indication for a TMJ problem.
Now, why did I say that both sides of the jaw are related well this is something when the jaw deviates to one side? This is a very important principle that an astute therapist, doctor or chiropractor needs to be aware of because the jaw motion occurs in two ways. There is a rotation of the jaw when you open your jaw and there is also a translation (sliding) of the jaw.
So, if the jaw deviates to the right side, the rotation component on the right side is normal but the sliding or translation component is blocked. On the opposite side (left), the translation component is good but the rotation component is missing. What does this mean from a correction or treatment perspective?
From a correction perspective, the chiropractor will need to correct both sides of the jaw-both sides of the TMJ joints. Otherwise you’re not going to make an effective correction.
The other part I am going to do as a chiropractor which is very important is to assess the vertebra of the neck to assess for spinal function. What I am looking for is any shifts on the spine or any blockages in the motion of the spinal bones. These shifts or blockages in spinal motion is called a spinal misalignment or a subluxation. I especially exam the very top of the neck. What I am looking for is any restrictions in motion in the upper neck spinal bones right at the base of the skull. If there is a restriction in the upper neck, then that will affect the function of TMJ.
So when chiropractors treat TMJ problems, they will certainly do assessments and corrections of the spine first and then they will finish off with a TMJ adjustment.
Chiropractic adjustments of the neck and spine are gentle and very effective in improving motion and function.
The same is true for chiropractic adjustments of the TMJ. Some chiropractors will use a chiropractic table that has a gentle drop piece that assists with the correction and adjustment of the TMJ and the spine.
To recap, it is crucial that both sides of the TMJ joint is adjusted appropriately and in the right direction to address both the rotation component and the translation component of the TMJ motion.
Chiropractic treatment for TMJ is highly beneficial and very effective. Patients find it useful because they are able to open their mouth fully again with no discomfort, pain, and with improved motion. This allows them to eat normally without being restricted in the types of foods they want to eat.
If you have any questions about TMJ problems and how a chiropractic can help you with TMJ treatment visit a chiropractor in your city.