“Oh no I have TMJ!” Good news, you’re not the only one! In fact, I have a TMJ, your mom has a TMJ, heck, even your pet cat has a TMJ! That’s because ‘TMJ’ is short for ‘Temporo-Mandibular Joint’, or your jaw joint, but is an acronym commonly used to describe jaw joint pain.
So what’s it all about? Like any dysfunction in the body, pain in the jaw isn’t something that just spontaneously ‘happens’ on its own but is your body’s intelligent response to stress- in this case stress on the jaw joint and surrounding tissues. The pain is there because your body is screaming at you to tell you something is wrong- (that’s a good thing!)
Continual physical stress on the jaw can cause the jaw joint to misalign and glide and track improperly, cause surrounding muscles to be in spasm, irritating surrounding nerves, and sometimes causing clicking, cracking, and pain in the area.
Having experienced TMJ pain myself and having helped a lot of people who have suffered with it, the most common causes of it that I have seen are:
1. Self-inflicted: By clenching or grinding one’s teeth throughout the day or night, chewing gum too much throughout the day, or only chewing using one side of the the mouth.
2. Physical trauma: An unexpected right hook from your sparring partner at boxing class, getting kicked in the jaw by a horse (yes I have seen this!), or a car accident for example.
3. Tension in the neck: Particularly of the upper neck – in which the muscles of the neck can then pull and create tension on the jaw
4. Other underlying causes: Such as dental infection, wisdom teeth problems, etc.
By FAR however, the most common cause I come across is #1- self-inflicted TMJ pain, usually from habitual clenching and grinding of the teeth, the underlying cause of this being mental and emotional stress.
I have experienced this exact problem myself, and found that in the morning and at the end of the day my jaw was constantly in spasm and causing considerable pain. I was under a great deal of psychological/emotional stress at the time but I was resistant at first to admitting I was habitually clenching my teeth both at night and during the day (especially in front of computer screens) as a stress response.
The first thing that helped was getting a custom nighttime mouth guard made by my dentist. The second was focusing and becoming very vigilant about not clenching my teeth throughout the day. This was very difficult at first but eventually I was able to break the habit and you can too.
Besides finding the root cause of the pain and solving it at its source, the jaw itself can be carefully adjusted back into alignment through chiropractic care in order to allow the jaw to move freely again, release tight muscles, and reduce nerve irritation. The neck can also be analyzed and adjusted back into place as it is often a contributing source of tension. At our office we use videofluoroscopy (real-time video motion xray) to do this.
Jaw pain should not be taken lightly. If chronic it can lead to arthritis in the TMJ joint and in serious cases even reconstructive surgery on the jaw. Do yourself a big favor and nip it in the bud before it starts interfering with your quality of life!