This is Part 2 of this article about TMJ problems and the role that Blair Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care plays in helping people find relief from grinding, clenching, clicking, and jaw pain. To return to Part 1, please click the link below.
Part 1 - The Easy Diagnosis Tip to know the Type of TMJ Problems You Have
TMJ Problems & the Myth of the Million Dollar Smile
When it comes to TMJ problems, let me start off with the myth of the Million Dollar Smile. It sounds nice: a beautiful, orthopedically-symmetrical smile … and you certainly pay your orthodontist a handsome price to get it! But let me ask you this: what if your teeth aren’t supposed to line up this way?
Think about it: if you wear braces for a few years, which is long enough for the “concrete to set” so that the teeth will stay where they are, why would you need to wear a retainer to maintain their position? Why, oh why, would your nervous system shift your teeth after all the work that you’ve just done to put them there?
The answer is because they aren’t supposed to be there! (Note - To be clear, I am not anti-braces provided that they do not narrow your upper palate (aka maxillary bone). For any number of reasons, you may have crooked teeth that are causing TMJ issues, breathing difficulties, speech difficulties, and a host of additional problems. In these instances, braces may be a brilliant solution.
What I am against is any procedure that shifts things in your body that is contrary to your normal bone structure and healthy neurology).
Asymmetry is the Rule
What if I told you that for an estimated 77% of the population their teeth are not supposed to be perfectly straight! One of the most important things that I know as a Blair Upper Cervical specific Chiropractor is that your body is not symmetrical in any way.
Not on the inside or the outside. Not on the front or the back. Not even on the left and the right. Look in the mirror. Or better yet, take a picture of yourself, crop, and flip it so that you see a truly symmetrical version of your face. If you do this, you will see exactly what I mean.
From the shape of your eyes to the curve of your cheeks to the height of your ears, there is a minute but significant difference between the left and right sides of your body. If this is true of your face, do you think it would be any different with your bones?
Or course not. Based on research from Dr. William Blair all the way back in the 1950s and 60s, there is a specific asymmetrical feature that appears in 77% of the entire population. It is called a “turned foramen magnum.”
The foramen magnum is the opening at the base of your skull. If it is turned (to the right, in this picture), your jaw SHOULD be aligned parallel to the amount of the turn. If not, you may develop TMJ problems. The foramen magnum is the large opening at the base of your skull where your brainstem and spinal cord send messages to the rest of your body.
In 77% of the entire population, this opening is turned sideways a few degrees. For some people the turn is so slight - one degree - that it doesn’t really matter. For other people (percent unknown) who have more significant turns or 5-10 degrees or more, there are major potential ramifications.
It is one of the most important things that I look at when I determine how a person’s C1 vertebra (and especially C2!) is misaligned. From a chiropractic standpoint, a turned foramen magnum means that your C1 (and especially C2!) should never be perfectly midline with the rest of your body!
Not because there is anything wrong with you, but because that is your normal bone structure! What do you think would happen then is someone decided to “adjust” your atlas or axis to midline so that it would be “orthopedically straight?” Exactly! You would get darn sick because the bone is not supposed to be there. It would have had the potential of putting way more pressure on your brainstem and nervous system!
What Can Tom Cruise Teach Us About Asymmetry and TMJ Problems?
This is the exact same problem that happens if you get a Million Dollar “orthopedically straight” smile if your own bone structure isn’t taken into account. Here’s the relationship: Whatever your normal bone structure is, your atlas, the axis should like up with your foramen magnum, and your jaw should line up perpendicular to that.
What this means from a dental perspective, if your foramen magnum is turned sideways, your teeth should be turned sideways by a proportionate amount. Sorry, you'll never be able to unsee that Tom Cruise's smile is actually turned relative to the midline of his face ... and this is because, most likely, it is aligned with his normal bone structure.
Nothing is actually wrong here! You may be thinking that a turned smile looks weird, but unless you have a trained eye, you’ll never even notice. The classic example I give is Tom Cruise. Whatever your feelings about his movies, personal life, etc, most people agree he’s a handsome, athletic, and overall pretty healthy individual.
Now look closely at his smile. Certainly not straight, is it? But you know what? You've probably never noticed before. So you see, it isn't a big deal at all! If Tom Cruise can get away with it, I'm sure you can too! Now, I’ve never seen an x-ray of Tom Cruise’s neck, but I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that he has a turned foramen magnum, which is the reason that his teeth align this way.
There is nothing weird here (physically): this is just his normal bone structure. This is why I emphasize that a Healthy Smile is far more important than the Million Dollar Smile.
So What if We "Fixed" Tom Cruise's Smile?
It is critical that your orthodontist and your chiropractor recognise that any structural changes need to work with your nervous system - not against it! So can you imagine what would happen if someone said, “Mr. Cruise, we want to straighten your teeth for you” … but can you also imagine what would happen to Tom Cruise’s health if we did get orthopedically straight that was not congruent with his bone structure?
A common solution in the past to create a Million Dollar Smile, to correct for an overbite or a “crowded mouth” was to take out a few teeth in the front and then to allow the remaining teeth to come together. Unfortunately, this can causes a person's upper palate to narrow, to shift into an abnormal configuration, and cause the skull to “lock into pathology,” which increases the physical pressure on the nervous system as a result. which is the recipe for ultimate disaster and that I will address in the next part of this article series.