TMJ dysfunction is a common problem that involves a number of different jaw symptoms. While many abbreviate jaw symptoms as TMJ, this is actually the abbreviation for the jaw joint itself (temporomandibular joint), and conditions affecting the jaw are better abbreviated TMD (temporomandibular dysfunction/disorder).
What are some of the symptoms that can be associated with TMD? Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Jaw pain that can radiate toward the neck and ears
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Headaches that may become chronic
- Limited range of jaw motion
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ear) and jaw pain
- A popping, clicking, or grinding sound that occurs while using the jaw
- Vertigo or dizziness
- Problems with vision
Keep in mind that the jaw may occasionally make noise without there being a serious problem. There can also be pain with no sound.
How do most medical professionals attempt to treat TMJ disorders?
Common TMJ Disorder Treatments
Let’s break down the most common TMJ pain treatments into 4 categories:
- Medication – Most doctors will start out by recommended over-the-counter medications for pain. NSAIDs such as ibuprofen are the most popular because they also help with inflammation. If pain becomes severe and chronic, a doctor may provide a prescription painkiller. Unfortunately, medications only treat the symptoms (pain and inflammation) and do nothing to reverse the condition, so this is a temporary fix.
- Splints – A dentist may custom fit an oral appliance for temporary use. These splints are also called bite guards. They are particularly useful when TMJ dysfunction is caused by bruxism (grinding the teeth) or a problem with a person’s bite.
- Surgery – This is usually considered a last resort, and it is very controversial as far as TMJ care goes. The TMJA recommends opting out of elective jaw surgeries and encourages patients to remember that the failure of more traditional methods doesn’t mean we should automatically search out a more aggressive treatment while there may be other less invasive options still available.
- Miscellaneous – The fact is that there are a ton of other treatments that may be recommended on a case by case basis, often depending on the underlying cause of the jaw pain. Some of the therapies that are considered include Botox, steroid injections, and orthodontics.
However, more and more people are looking into home remedies. Why? Because people want to avoid side effects or because they tried traditional methods and nothing has worked. What are some of the home remedies for TMJ disorders?
Caring for TMD at Home
TMD often resolves in a few days, so before you head to the doctor for something drastic, here are a few things you can do at home to relieve the pain and discomfort.
- Ice – One reason NSAIDs are recommended for TMJ pain is to reduce swelling. Ice can have the same effect, especially if the jaw pain is due to an injury. Use ice in 20-minute increments and never in direct contact with the skin. For example, wrap an ice pack in a hand towel.
- Eating Soft Foods – You may need to make some temporary dietary changes to give your jaw a break. Eat softer foods and nutritious liquids like homemade soup. Your body may be able to heal a minor injury on its own if you don’t overuse the jaw.
- Avoid Overuse – Besides eating softer foods, avoid other activities that can overextend the jaw. For example, you may need to stifle yawns for a few days, skip on gum chewing, and save singing loudly for later (unless you can sing without opening your mouth very wide).
- Stress Management – You may not be able to avoid stress completely, but having some good coping mechanisms is important. High-stress levels can lead to bruxism and other underlying causes of TMJ pain as the jaw is clenched subconsciously over and over again.
- Use Good Posture – A misaligned neck can affect the jaw and cause pain, so be sure to maintain good posture whether at home or at the office.
Finding Natural Relief from TMJ Pain
If you are suffering from chronic TMJ pain, one way you may be able to find some relief is through upper cervical chiropractic. A case study that was published in 2012 (found on pages 75 to 77 of the linked document) showed the results of upper cervical care on 5 patients suffering from TMJ dysfunction. At the beginning of the study, the patients’ average pain level was reported at 5.9 out of 10. After just 8 weeks of care, the average had dropped to 0.9. The patient who still had the worst pain of the 5 reported it at a 2.0 out of 10.
How does the neck affect the jaw? It is interesting to note that many patients with chronic TMJ problems also experience neck pain. This may be because of the close proximity of the C1 (atlas) and the TMJ. A misalignment can easily affect jaw alignment. Thus, correcting the problem may be able to provide the natural relief a person is searching for.
If you are suffering from chronic jaw pain, especially if you have a history of head or neck trauma (concussion, whiplash, etc.), contact an upper cervical practitioner near you to schedule a no-obligation consultation. An examination may reveal that you are suffering from an atlas misalignment, If so, you may have just found the solution to your TMJ pain, and possibly even some other symptoms you may not have realized were coming from this common underlying condition.