Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) are bothersome and often painful conditions affecting the joints and muscles in and around the jaw. In some instances, the nerves associated with facial sensation can become irritated too, which can make the condition even more painful. The jaw is quite a complex structure. If you can appreciate for a moment the activities in which your jaw plays a key role, e.g. eating, talking, singing, yawning etc, it is no surprise that the jaw has a great nerve supply. This is necessary for the accurate movements our jaw is required it to do, including the aforesaid tasks. It is also due to the acute sensitivity that, when the joint becomes dysfunctional or irritated, it can cause a lot of discomfort for the sufferer.
What can cause TMD, I hear you ask? Mostly it’s due to strain or tightness of the muscles of mastication (i.e. chewing), or irritation to the joint or the disc that lies within the joint itself. These muscles are some of the most powerful ones in the human body - the masseter is the strongest. Common stressors include bruxism (i.e. teeth grinding); clenching the jaw; having an uneven bite; direct trauma to the face; long term chewing on one side, or propping one’s head with a hand under the chin whilst reading. Psychological stress can at times cause clenching which can then progress to TMD. There are cases where the nerves that supply the jaw become irritated and, as some of the muscles of your neck are involved in jaw movements, neck dysfunction often goes hand in hand with TMD.
Symptoms range from feeling stiff to a locking sensation when opening or closing the mouth, or feeling pain around the jaw, ear and/or temple, sometimes causing headaches. A clicking or popping sound can be a sign of TMD but that’s usually the case when also accompanied with pain. Some people just have clicky jaws, pain free, and that’s normal.
We Chiropractors are trained to manage jaw disorders and can fully assess and, when appropriate, treat the underlying cause. We can also provide you with advice and at times will co-manage with your dentist in cases where for example a mouth guard is needed. If you have already tried a mouth guard and this has not helped, it may be well worth to get in touch with us. Oftentimes skilled hands-on treatment of the jaw and the neck, paired with home exercises, can be extremely beneficial.