JAW PAIN – it is a silent offender, causing grief for 1 in 4 Australians. We often don’t realise just how good our body is made to feel, and the jaw is no exception!
Jaw dysfunction can be found in people who present with chronic headaches, with or without referral to the head region. Frequent jaw clenching, soreness around the jaw in the mornings, as well as grinding at night (usually reported by disgruntled spouses) are often reported. A history of trauma could also be relevant, especially in whiplash cases where the head hyperextends (think of your head snapping back suddenly in car accidents or unexpected falls) as well as direct trauma to the jaw itself.
We call it the “hidden culprit” because people often don’t associate the above signs as something to see your chiropractor about, or to see anyone about for that matter… Sufferers usually just put up with it.
The Temporomandibular Joint, or TMJ, is a complex sliding hinge joint that connects the jawbone to the skull. It is one of the few joints in the human body that moves in three ways: up and down, forward and back, AND side to side. TMJ dysfunction is caused when there is a misalignment of the jaw, neck, and supporting structures (or when people don’t listen to their dentists about having wisdom teeth removed *shakes head*).
So how do we check if you’ve got a jaw dysfunction?
First, watch to see how the jaw opens and closes: does it deviate to a particular side? Are you having to click your jaw to get it to open wide? Is there any pain or discomfort in the movement? Mouth opening is measured to be normal when 3 fingers could be fitted comfortably between your top and bottom rows of teeth.
Next comes our favourite part! Palpation (using the fingers or hands for a physical examination)…
Don’t be scared though – the quality jaw joint movement can be felt from outside the cheek. We also look for any presence of clicking, grinding, and asymmetry. Other symptoms that are often overlooked can include dizziness, sharp facial pain, deep ear pain, facial swelling, and neck & upper back muscle spasms/pain referring from the jaw.
Before we can look at the treatment we need to pin point the cause! TMJ dysfunction also affects twice as many women than men because of differences in muscle tone. Stress, grinding or clenching the teeth, genetics, and some diseases including Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Arthritis are a few more causes for TMJ dysfunction. Yet again, more often than not people will literally grin and bear it when it comes to dealing with treating a slight jaw ache.
Once other triggers are ruled out, treatment can be quite simple and effective with patients reporting good success. Here at AV Chiro we normally focus on working the upper cervical neck and the occiput (back of the skull). They are adjusted to switch on the right muscles to help everything move better. The actual jaw itself is also adjusted, either manually or using the Activator (a super cool chiro tool). Each patient and case is different and treated accordingly. When a patient presents with TMJ dysfunction, we not only adjust but we often give stretches and advice to help get the most out of the treatment. Muscular releases can be done on the internal pterygoids (a very scary word with a silent p… please see illustration below), the masseter (illustration below), and the temporalis (yet again, illustration below… Please don’t freak out and stop reading here). Some of these muscles will have to be treated from within the mouth itself (using gloves of course) for maximum relief.
It can seem scary to have your Chiropractor’s finger inside your mouth however, the relief afterwards is well worth the exquisite tenderness and awkward eye contact that can occur. TMJ dysfunction can become quite a serious health issue and can be spotted early. Even simple stretches may be able to get you eating easier, sleeping sounder, and talking faster (three things almost every human loves to do)!
Yes! Chiropractors do check out all these things! Any part of the body that has a moving joint, muscle, or nervous supply we look out – do check out our other blogs for more details!