TMJ Treatment: A Jackson, NJ Chiropractor’s Perspective

Chiropractic is one of the best treatments for back painneck pain, and headaches. What’s lesser known about chiropractors is that we also treat problems with your TMJ, often referred to as TMD or temporomandibular dysfunction. 12% of the population suffers from some sort of temporomandibular disorder at some point in their lives, second only to back pain. The mandible, the bottom part of the jaw, meets the maxilla, the top part of the jaw, at the TMJ, the temporomandibular joint, allowing the jaw to open and close smoothly.

TMD can present in a number of different ways from popping and grinding to pain or locking of the jaw to a misalignment of the joint itself causing the jaw to shift from one side to another or jut out while trying to open or close your mouth. This issue could be from the musculature or even from the joint’s disc which acts as a shock absorber for the jaw.

One of the most common causes of TMD is bruxism. This is when people clench or grind their teeth while sleeping, typically as a result of stress. Stress often gives rise to TMD or TMJ problems. TMD could also be the result of a trauma, an accident, a sports injury, a punch to the face, that can actually displace the joint’s disc, or arthritis or degenerative joint disease from clenching, grinding, an accident, or overuse.

At Intrinsic Chiropractic, we help to manage the pain in a variety of ways. We obviously recommend that patients avoid eating large pieces of food like bagels, sandwiches, hamburgers, steak, or foods that require a lot of chewing and opening their mouths wide. If the jaw is swollen or inflamed, icing the joint helps reduce inflammation. When you clench or grind, you don’t only use the muscles in the jaw, but the muscles in the temples and neck as well. This is why many of our patients find massage therapy, or even self-massage, incredibly soothing to loosen the jaw’s tight muscles. The most powerful tool available to chiropractors is the chiropractic adjustment. We are able to adjust the jaw to realign the joint and relieve pressure on the nerves and provide stretches and different strengthening exercises to help stabilize the jaw. Strengthening exercises help adjustments to hold longer and prevent issues from returning.

 
 

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How We Treat TMJ Dysfunction in Jackson, NJ

Complete Consultation and Exam

The first thing we do is a complete consultation and examination. A detailed, thorough history allows the doctor to figure out what specifically might be causing the TMJ problems – stress, old accidents or injuries, a history of clenching or grinding, etc. Dr. Kinney is specially trained in assessing TMJ dysfunction. Using a caliper, we take very specific measurements for lateral jaw deviations to see if they are within a normal range. If not, we know there is a problem that we need to address.

In addition to examining the jaw, we’ll also assess if there are any problems in the cervical or neck portion of the spine. Many people don’t realize that a lot of TMJ problems can stem from a loss of normal curvature in the cervical spine. The loss of a normal, healthy curve – typically 35° to 40° – tends to put more stress on the muscles of the neck and contribute to tension in the jaw. The TMJ is very close to the very first bone in the neck, they share muscles and ligaments, so when there’s upper cervical neck dysfunction – or a misalignment – that can give rise to abnormal jaw function.

Misaligned, or subluxated, vertebrae in the neck can put stress on the nerves that exit the top of the neck and feed the jaw and muscles of the face and head. If those nerves aren’t functioning properly it will definitely affect jaw musculature and function. If the muscles are clenched or very tight, spasming, or hypertonic, we will assess the musculature and whether or not we need to create a care plan that will loosen and relax the muscles around the face, head, and neck.

After taking measurements, assessing nerve supply, determining alignment, we take specific X-rays. Through motion study X-rays we take pictures of the spine in flexion and extension to see if there is good motion throughout the neck. It’s a complete picture of not only the TMJ itself but the entire head for a more holistic approach.

After we assess the spine with orthopedic, neurological, chiropractic, palpatory, and posture exams, we will take X-rays. If we determine there are subluxations, a loss of curvature of the spine, or loss of function of the joint, we will create a care plan specific to the results of our findings. This plan will include an individualized combination of chiropractic adjustments, strengthening exercises and stretches, muscle work, and traction to loosen muscles and support normal alignment and function.

 
 

Specific Chiropractic Care in Jackson, NJ

Subluxations, or misalignment in the spine or the jaw, are adjustable. When joints get fixated, locked, stuck, or when they lose their normal motion and movement it puts additional stress on the nerves. Chiropractic adjustments are useful because they help to open up the joint surfaces. Restoring healthy motion and movement into the spinal joints will increase the range of motion of the TMJ and take pressure off the nerves allowing for healthy function.

 

Massage Therapy and Soft Tissue Work

In addition to the soft tissue work done by the doctor, we have a massage therapist on staff to address specific muscular concerns. They can loosen spastic or hypertonic musculature in the face, head, and neck that support normal neck and jaw function.

 

Cervical Traction

We use a piece of foam that’s shaped specifically for the curve of the neck. Over time, the weight of the patient’s head laying on this piece of foam will restore the natural, healthy cervical curve in their neck. This will take stress off of the neck and the muscles in the neck, easing tension in the jaw. Normalizing the alignment will ultimately result in less muscle tension, normal curvature, decreased chances of degeneration or arthritic changes to the spine, and less stress on the bones, joints, and discs.

 

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Common Symptoms of TMJ Dysfunction in Jackson, NJ

Jaw Popping

Someone suffering from a TMJ dysfunction might not always be in pain. Popping, when you open or close your mouth, while chewing, talking, or doing any kind of jaw movement is a common TMD symptom. Sometimes you may get pain in the neck or notice pain in your head associated with the popping. There is much interconnectedness of nerves, ligaments, muscles, and tendons between TMJ and the head and neck.

 

Jaw Pain

Sometimes people get jaw pain because they’ve recently had dental work done. If you’ve had your mouth open for a long time for a root canal, bridge work, or a cleaning, a TMJ disorder may cause pain. Trauma will also cause TMD pain, after a car accident, falling off a bike, a sports injury, getting hit in the face during kickboxing, the force can cause dysfunction that may give rise to pain and TMJ problems. Old injuries left unattended or years of grinding and clenching can start to wear the joint down causing issues like degenerative joint disease or disc disease. These issues may be evident on an X-ray. Jaw pain may be associated with problems in the neck. We often see jaw pain from TMD give rise to headaches and even migraines. It’s not always just one specific cause that’s why a thorough examination is critical to assess the situation.

 

Jaw Locking

When the jaw locks, it’s often affiliated with what’s going on with the disc. Just like the spine, the jaw has a little cushion in the joint that allows for normal opening and closing. This can be difficult to assess and sometimes an MRI may be necessary to see if the disc itself is displaced.

 

Jaw Clenching and Grinding

Clenching, often called bruxism, usually happens in times of stress. Typically it happens while people are asleep and they don’t even realize they’re clenching. Sometimes patients are able to catch themselves clenching which allows them to loosen their jaw and reduce stress in the moment. Bruxism can give rise to headaches, like tension headaches or back of the head headaches with band-like pain. Stress-reducing activities like meditation, yoga, a good stretching regimen, or just taking frequent breaks from work are really important to reduce clenching.

For patients with bruxism, we will sometimes recommend an appliance, fitted by a dentist or orthodontist, to help reduce the stress of clenching and grinding. Not only will these habits inflame the TMJ, but they also wear down the surface of the teeth causing them to crack or a root to break. An appliance, like a soft mouthguard, helps to alleviate some of the stress on the teeth and jaw. These appliances can be costly, so I initially always recommend an over-the-counter guard.

 
 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can chiropractic care in Jackson, NJ help my TMJ?

Yes! Sometimes chiropractors don’t treat TMD, but Dr. Kinney is certified to treat specific TMJ dysfunction. Through specific analysis, examination, and history we can come up with a good plan that will work to treat your TMD?Yes! Sometimes chiropractors don’t treat TMD, but Dr. Kinney is certified to treat specific TMJ dysfunction. Through specific analysis, examination, and history we can come up with a good plan that will work to treat your TMD?

What causes TMJ to flare up?

The most common things that cause TMJ to flare up are consistent teeth grinding or clenching. Clenching and grinding happen mostly at night and can be felt when you wake up with your jaw in some kind of pain. Eating food that requires a lot of chewing or a big bite, like sandwiches or bagels, or foods with a shell like nuts, can also cause TMJ to flare up.

What happens if TMJ is left untreated?

When things are left untreated they tend to get worse and worse over time. You may continue to have jaw pain that doesn’t go away and worsening pain from chewing and talking. You may notice pain in the morning from a clenched jaw while sleeping, you may even begin to have pain while working due to clenching from stress. It’s even possible to start developing headaches with increasing frequency and severity.

Is TMJ a medical or a dental problem?

It can be both. Sometimes the teeth may be out of alignment and need braces or there is dental work needed to improve chewing and jaw function. More often it is a chiropractic problem. Not only will we assess TMJ function but the function of the musculoskeletal system of the neck, head, and jaw.

What is a chiropractic adjustment for TMJ like in Jackson, NJ?

We initially perform soft tissue work on all the musculature. Then Dr. Kinney will use a handheld adjusting tool, called an activator, which works to specifically move the jaw into better alignment creating better motion and better function of the TMJ.

Can you fix TMJ without surgery?

Yes. Have the issue assessed. See what the problem is. Is the issue coming from the neck? From the jaw? Is it just muscular? Is it the disc in the jaw? Once we figure out what the problem is we can get to the root cause and work towards correcting the problem. Our goal is to manage it conservatively first. Surgery is always our last option.

 

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