Are You Suffering a TMJ Disorder?
Temporomandibular Joint or TMJ disorders or TMD is not actually a single condition. TMJ disorders represent a category of conditions caused by a number of potential factors that ultimately cause jaw problems.
In this article (and elaborated in additional articles) I want to give you a quick diagnosis tip that you can do by yourself at home that will help you to discover what type of TMJ issue you have and what type of treatment you may need.
Although this tip is not an absolute, it is the most valuable free guide I can give you as a first step towards finding the type of healthcare practitioner you need to be able to help you discover a long-term solution for your jaw issues.
Basic Jaw Anatomy
Jaw and dental problems are a very common part of the complex health challenge. Often, the most complicated dental patients have a problem with their upper neck ... and the most complicated atlas patients have a problem with their mouth! The temporomandibular joints are similar to your knees.
They are hinges with cartilage on the inside, which allows them to swing freely. If either TMJ is injured, the normal hinge mechanism is damaged. This can cause your jaw to deviate sideways, which in turn compresses the cartilage inside the joint.
Not only does this cause pain (both inside your jaw and upwards into your temples), it also causes your jaw to click, crunch and grind. The most common symptoms of TMD include teeth grinding (bruxism), clenching, jaw pain, sleep apnoea and other breathing difficulties, headaches, and migraines.
Ultimately, the question you need to ask if you are experiencing some type of TMJ disorder is, “Why am I experiencing these problems?” As you will see, the answer is usually a complicated mix involving three factors: 1) your skull, 2) your jaw, and 3) your upper neck.
What makes an accurate diagnosis especially frustrating is that many medical practitioners, chiropractors, and even dentists are not familiar with how these three factors cause TMJ issues. In this article, I hope to offer you valuable insight into the common causes of TMD and what you need to do in order to solve your issues.
The Most Valuable Tool that I Know to tell TMJ Disorders Apart
Before I get into any of the technical stuff (that is for later articles), I want to give you the most valuable screening test that I know so that you can identify which category of TMD you may have.
- Stand in front of a well-illuminated mirror.
- Slowly open and then slowly close your mouth. Pay attention to the way that your jaw moves.
- Does it track in a normal straight line? Or do you see a deviation or a deflection?
A deflection is when your jaw swings to one side, but then swings back to midline when you open it, and then the same thing happens in reverse when you close it. A deflection indicates malocclusion between your jaw and upper palate.
A deviation is when your jaw swings to either the left of the right when you open it and then swings back to midline when you close it. A deviation indicates a disrupted neuromuscular pattern likely originating from your spine. I’m going to make this really simple:
- If you see a deflection, you need to see is a Specific Dentist, who focuses on balancing your teeth to a neurologically-healthy position.
- If you see a deviation, you need to see is an Upper Cervical Chiropractor, who focuses on the alignment of the C1 and C2 vertebrae in your neck. This is what I do in my practice.
Can you have both a deflection and a deviation at the same time? Yes, you can. If so, you need a specific dentist and a specific chiropractor working together to solve the problem. Can you also have normal tracking but still have a TMJ issue?
Yes, you can, but there is no simple at-home screening test I can give you for these trickier cases. It is my experience that the vast majority of people who experience TMJ disorders have either a clear deflection, deviation, or both. …
And as simple as this test is, it is extremely valuable in identifying exactly what’s going on and what type of care you need. Now, you still may want to understand how or why you’ve developed your TMJ disorder in the first place, and how a deflection or deviation came to be in the first place. If so, please keep reading where I’ll address some of the more common reasons.
A Brief Summary of the Role of the Upper Neck in Health ...
I’ve written extensively about the impact of physical injuries affecting the alignment of the upper neck and its impact on your nervous system. As a brief summary, a physical injury that affects your upper neck - not breaking, not dislocating, but shifting just a little and then getting stuck there - can create physical tension on your brainstem.
Over time, this tension can negatively impact the clear communication pathway between your brain and your body, potentially leading to health problems. Moreover, a misalignment of the upper vertebrae in your neck can also affect the circulation of blood and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that allow your brain to function at 100%.
Amongst other conditions that can be caused by an upper neck injury, muscle tightness and postural problems are exceptionally common ... and if the muscles involved so happen to be your jaw muscles - voila! - you can experience a TMJ disorder!
... and then an Introduction to the Cranial Trauma side of TMJ Disorders
Many of the injuries that create upper neck, dental, and TMJ problems originate from physical injuries in childhood or adulthood ... It's not every injury, but the ones at just the wrong time-and-place that never get addressed that often go on to create way bigger problems down the track.
I will discuss the specifics on how the upper neck impacts the TMJ at a later point in this article series. For now, all I need to emphasize is that because the upper neck is the most important yet fragile area of the human body, it deserves special consideration and attention in the restoration of health and a wide variety of health conditions ...
TMJ disorders included! However, that's not to say that the upper neck is the only thing that can create TMJ disorders. In the same way that a physical injury causes your neck to misalign, a physical injury can also cause your jaw or your skull bones to shift. If they do - but then they heal in the wrong position - that’s where the trouble can also start. These types of injuries can happen to anyone at any age. However, the most common injuries happen to three groups of people:
- Kids <10 years old who experienced an injury when their bones were still developing;
- Teenagers or adults who experienced a direct skull or jaw trauma, which ultimately healed wrong; and
- People of all ages who experienced some type of structural change to their maxillary bone, which caused their upper palate to narrow.
These types of injuries do not always involve horrific trauma but are often the "low impact" knocks that we all suffer during the course of our lives. Metaphorically, 99/100 of these injuries don't cause us any long-term damage.
But all it takes is that 1/100 that slips at just the wrong angle at the wrong time that starts us down the wrong path, ultimately leading to health complications months, years, and sometimes decades later. What I am going to discuss in the next series of articles actually has very little to do with the type of Upper Cervical Care that I do in my own office. Instead, I'm going to talk about what I cannot do, but in a very specific role, those specialised dentists are able to help TMJ disorders.