TMJ and the Chiropractor

[originally published in KCN, June 2010]

There I sat in the dental waiting room, flipping through a magazine as my toe kept time to the Muzak.  Suddenly, the young dentist poked his head out from behind the door and called my name. He looked worried.  And to tell you the truth, I began to feel the same way — because I wasn’t there to be seen.  It was my wife’s turn in the chair, and I was only waiting.

The year was 1996, and I had freshly graduated chiropractic college six months prior. My wife was finishing up her year as an elementary school teacher in California before we packed up and made the big move to where we now reside in Washington State.  So, in an effort to complete as much of her needed dental work as possible with insurance paying the tab, we opted for the open-mouth-marathon.

The dentist told me that my wife was in pain and was calling for me. You see, in the middle of her “marathon” she was struck with piercing pain in her right jaw that was accompanied by intense popping every time she opened her mouth.  When I arrived at her side I could see that she was in distress.  Standing behind the reclined dental chair, I placed my hands on her face and proceed to release the tension in her jaw musculature and then gave her some swift adjustments to the upper neck as the dentist and his two assistants looked on.  Moments later my wife looked up at me with a sigh. The pain had dissipated and the popping had ceased.  I looked up at my dental audience.  Their mouths were agape.

The dentist pulled me into his private office and started paging through his anatomy books.  “What is it that you just did?” he asked in amazement.  “Because we certainly didn’t learn about it in dental school.”  I’m certain, had I stayed in the area, we would have enjoyed a good working relationship.

When it comes to jaw pain — also referred to as TMJ, for Temporomandibular Joint — most do not think of a chiropractor.  But as I am about to explain, a chiropractor just might be the provider of choice.

Every time you open your mouth, yawn, chew, swallow, or speak, the TMJ’s (we have two, one on either side) move.  And if the pair’s complex movement do not synch with one another, the classic symptoms of TMJ arrive on scene — such as jaw pain, popping, teeth grinding at night, and/or inability to fully open or close the mouth, not to mention headaches, neck pain, and ringing in the ears.  Basically, as one of the joints moves as normal, the other one gets hung up.  With the normal moving TMJ going through its motion of hinging and sliding forward, pressure in the dysfunctional joint builds until the leverage from the normal moving side literally pries it free causing the classic “pop.”

Many things can act upon the TMJ and cause it to fall in a state of dysfunction.  Everything from dental bite problems to poor posture, whiplash to spinal misalignments.  Fortunately, the TMJ is largely able to adapt quite well and is constantly doing so.  Sometimes however, the demands on the TMJ become too great, and its ability to adapt falls short — allowing symptoms to get the upper hand.

Because this joint is so adaptive, the goal of treatment —whatever it may be — is not necessarily to “fix” the problem, but rather to enhance the TMJ’s ability to adapt.

Chiropractors look to restore the imbalances of the spine and muscles that directly and indirectly influence the health and function of the TMJ.  Some situations require team treatment with a dentist — others do not.  When it comes to TMJ symptoms, chiropractic is effective and noninvasive and often brings about, not only great relief, but the restoration the patient needs.

_____________
Source used for this article:
Bergmann, et al.  Chiropractic Technique. Churchill Livingston Inc, New York. 1993.
Curl (DDS and DC). Whiplash and Temporomandibular Joint Injury:  principles of detection and management.  Chap 10 of Whiplash Injuries:  the cervical acceleration/deceleration syndrome. 2nd ed. by Foreman and Croft. William & Wilkins.  Baltimore. 1995.
Hearon.  What you should know about extremity adjusting. 8th ed. Kevin Hearon. Boise, ID.  1990.
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