TMJ / Jaw Pain
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the area directly in front of the ear on either side of the head where the upper jaw (maxilla) and lower jaw (mandible) meet. Within the TMJ, there are moving parts that allow the upper jaw to close on the lower jaw. The TMJ is used throughout the day to move the jaw, especially in biting and chewing, talking, and yawning. It is one of the most frequently used joints of the body.
A complex network of muscles, tendons, and bones arranged in complex angles make up the TMJ. The proper and symmetrically balanced function of each individual structure contributes to the overall smooth operation of the TMJ. Often the muscles are not relaxed and balanced and both jaw joints open and close uncomfortably … we are unable to talk, chew, or yawn without pain.
Muscles that control the TMJ contract in response to the activity nerves which originate from the brainstem.
Greater stimulation means more contraction. Less stimulation means less contraction. There are different nerves on the right and left side of your body. This means that the right side muscles controlling the TMJ can be much tighter because of the right side nerves over functioning.
The brainstem rests, anatomically, within spinal canal created by the skull, atlas (C1) and often also the axis (C2). Poor alignment and function of these bones causes direct mechanical stress on the brainstem and all the nerves it contains. Just think how a garden hose responds when you start kinking and twisting it!
What are common symptoms of TMJ disorders?
Headache: Patients with a TMJ disorder complain of headache approximately 80% of the time, while 40% report facial pain. Pain is often made worse moving the jaw.
Ear pain: Nearly half of patients with a TMJ disorder notice ear aching and do not have ear infection. The ear pain is usually described as being in front of or below the ear.
Sounds: Grinding, crunching, or popping sounds, are very often associated.
Dizziness: 4 out of 10 sufferers report dizzy spells or vertigo. The ear also is one of three mechanisms for balance so when it is involved, balance may be affected.
Fullness of the ear: Muffled, clogged, or full ears occur in about one-third of patients with a upper cervical related TMJ problem. These people often notice ear fullness and pain during airplane trips. These symptoms are usually caused by the structure responsible for the regulation of pressure in the ear. We know that patients with upper cervical related TMJ disorders can have severe hyperactivity (spasms) of the muscles responsible for regulating the opening and closing of the “pressure valve” of the ear.
Ringing in the ear (tinnitus): Because the nerves are over-stimulated, 33% of patients experience tinnitus. Noise or ringing in the ears often resolves after successful treatment of their upper cervical spine problem.