Jaw Pain and Chiropractic

Jaw Pain and Chiropractic

It’s a quiet offender, causing discomfort to 1 in 4 Americans.  Jaw issues can be due to chronic headaches, frequent jaw clenching and grinding your teeth at night (usually described by a sleep deprived spouse).  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 fall) 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.

So how do you know 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 favorite part!  Palpation (using the fingers or hands for a physical examination).

Don’t be scared – 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.

TMJ dysfunction 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.  More often than not we literally grin and bear it when it comes to treating jaw pain.

Once other triggers are ruled out, treatment can be quite simple and effective with patients seeing positive results within a very short period of time.  Here at Family Chiropractic Plus, we focus on working on the upper cervical neck and occiput (back of the skull).  The adjustment is designed to move the joints and muscles, helping the body move more affectively.  The jaw itself is also adjusted, either manually or using the activator technique.  Each patient is different and treated accordingly.  When a patient presents with TMJ dysfunction, we not only adjust but we often provide stretches and advice to help get the most out of the treatment.  Muscular releases can be performed on the internal pterygoids, the masseter, and the temporalis (illustration below).  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 early detection and treatment is the key.  Chiropractic adjustments and stretches will get you eating easier, sleeping sounder, and talking faster (three things almost all of us love to do)!

Yes!  Chiropractors do check out all moving joints, muscles and nerves!  We love chiropractic – do check out our other posts for more details!

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