Temporamandibular (TMJ) disorders are a group of conditions that cause pain in and around the jaw joint (the temporomandibular joint) and its nearby muscles. They affect a person’s ability to eat, chew, swallow, make facial expressions, speak and even breathe. Research says approximately 35 million people suffer from TMJ disorders in the US.
What is the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ)?
Connecting the lower jaw to the temporal bone in the skull, the TMJ is a hinge joint made up of muscles, blood vessels, nerves and bones. Your TMJ is the most important joint in your body because an estimated 30-40% of all of your body’s nerve impulses run indirectly or directly through the TMJ. Any disorder affecting this joint will affect your whole body, from head to foot.
What Causes TMJ Disorders?
As of the moment, not all causes are known. There have been conditions identified that are somehow indicative of TMJ disorders: injuries to the jaw area, arthritis, infections and auto-immune diseases.
What are Signs that I Have a TMJ Disorder?
Symptoms vary but pain is the most common symptom. Pain associated with TMJ disorders is often described as a dull ache anywhere from the jaw, ears, neck, head, shoulders and back. Dizziness and vision problems are often encountered. Since symptoms are common, diagnosing might take a while. This is why most people suffering from TMJ disorders have chronic pain.
TMJ and Other Problems in the Body
Jaw disorders create health problems that don’t appear connected in the body. Since the TMJ is a very large nerve joint, you can imagine how large its influence is on the motor aspect of your nervous system. Imagine your head weighs as much as a bowling ball. If you hold a bowling bowl in a starting position when you are playing bowling, you can only sustain that position for a while until your shoulders and arms become sore or irritated. Hold that position for a while longer and you will notice your back, hips and thighs start to hurt too. This is how TMJ disorders work – it affects the whole body.
TMJ and the Digestive Problems
TMJ disorders are most often rooted to a bad bite. If you can’t bite properly, the first step of digestion, mastication, is affected. This is why TMJ disorders are connected to digestive problems too, though the exact correlation remains unclear.
“Temporomandibular Disorder (Jaw Joint Disorder) is associated with 112% more digestive complaints on average (in terms of the cost of medical treatment) as compared to a normal group. “
Source: Hill L, An Introduction to Mastication Analysis in General Practice, Oral Health, March 2013, Vol 103, No 3, pg 20-26. Hans Skariah, B.Sc., DMD
A Holistic View of TMJ
According to holistic experts, TMJ disorders disrupt the flow of energy in the body. When the flow of energy though the jaw is blocked because of stress or tension, all systems that flow through the jaw are affected as well. There are channels called meridians where energy flows. TMJ disorders affect six main energy meridians as they travel near or through the jaw. These meridians are the stomach, small intestine, adrenal gland, gall bladder, large intestine and bladder. As you can see, these meridians relate to digestive functions. You might notice that when you are stressed, you have trouble digesting food properly. One of the reasons is because your jaw is tensed or locked due to tension and stress.
TMJ Therapy and Treatment Options
Correcting TMJ disorders can correct a variety of system (nervous, digestive, immune, pulmonary) disorders as well.
Treatments of TMJ disorders are often short-term. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research of the National Institutes of Health, TMJ treatments should be reversible whenever possible. That means that the treatment should not cause permanent changes to the jaw or teeth. Pain medications, jaw exercises and stabilization splints are the most widely used treatments.
Patients can also opt to correct their bite to offer long-term solution to chronic pain associated with TMJ disorders. Make sure to make an appointment with a dentist who is a member of the American Academy of Craniofacial Pain. If you live in the Indianapolis area, you can call Dr. Ted Reese, an accredited dentist practicing dentistry for over 25 years, at 317-882-0228.