- When treating TMJ pain seems hopeless
- Surgery may not be your best solution
- TMJ pain may not be a jaw problem
I’ve seen a lot of patients with TMJ in my Wellington office in the past couple of months.
Patients with TMJ often see a large drop in the quality of their life:
- “I feel like a baby because I can’t eat solid foods anymore”
- “There are times where I just have to stop talking because all I can think about is the pain”
- “That popping sound creeps me out and drives me nuts”
A lot of people will experience jaw pain for a day or two if they bite into a hard/chewy piece of food, but imagine if your life was plagued with jaw pain every single day. We underestimate the importance of our jaw, but it’s the piece of anatomy that allows you to enjoy some of the finest pleasures in life. Everything from kissing, to chewing, to a casual conversation with friends becomes a burden when your jaw fails to function.
Desperate Times and Desperate Measures
Severe cases of TMD can make people reach their breaking point quickly. Many of the patients that come to see me are usually looking at surgery as their next and final option because they don’t know what to do.
Even worse is when a patient spends tens of thousands of dollars for surgery but the pain doesn’t go away. Procedures that help to remove or replace a degenerated disc in the joint is sometimes performed to eliminate this pain sensitive piece of anatomy. The problem is that a degenerated disc can show up on imaging, but it isn’t necessarily the cause of the pain.
Unfortunately this happens more often than you might think, and it’s something that can make a patient with TMD hopeless if even surgery couldn’t get the job done.
This isn’t to say that surgery is not the answer, or that surgery can’t help, but we have to remember that TMD is a problem that science has yet to reveal all of the answers, and dental surgery is still working on figuring out what works and when it’s appropriate. Source
TMJ Pain May Not Be A Jaw Problem
There are many different causes for TMJ pain. They can range from abnormal jaw movement, tight jaw muscles, and degenerated discs. These can all be problem areas for a TMJ patient, but they all have something in common.
In fact, their commonality goes back to some of the same neurological mechanisms that contribute to neck pain and headaches. That’s why people with TMJ don’t just have jaw pain, they often have neck pain and headaches at the same time. It’s because almost all pain signals from the head and neck go through a small piece of spinal cord called the trigemino-cervical nucleus.
Sometimes Pain is a Computer Problem
So if you don’t have a medical background, some of that terminology might jump over your head.
Instead of thinking anatomy, let’s talk about it like a computer.
Your brain and spinal cord are like a computer chip. The part of your computer chip that feels head and neck pain is the trigemino-cevical nucleus.
Just like all computer chips, the quality of information that comes out is dependent on the quality of information that comes in. If you put junk information in, you get junk information out.
The computer chip of your body relies heavily on information from the muscles and joints. These signals are like computer programs. Whenever these joints move poorly from bad positioning, then it’s like a bad program that gives faulty information about what’s happening inside the body. This can occur from malpositioning of the jaw, faulty jaw movement, neck positioning errors, and faulty neck movement.
It’s like a computer virus going into your system and scrambling important signals into the brain.
This tells the body to produce a junk signals including:
- Tight and tense jaw muscles
- Inappropriate inflammation
- Central pain sensitivity
Can This Program Get Shut Off?
Fortunately your body’s program for pain can be re-written by changing the way these joints move.
A specialist like a neuromuscular dentist can use non-invasive methods to change the way your jaw moves and alter your bite with an orthotic.
Chiropractors that can correct the craniocervical region can create a dramatic impact on the pain programming in the brain.
That’s why both of these doctors frequently see similar patients, and will actually co-manage them between each other. Neck pain patients may get better relief from a dentist changing their bite, while some TMJ patients will get better relief from correcting their neck.
While we can’t say for certain which takes priority, but many patients can benefit from an interdisciplinary approach to care. Take the time to get a Complimentary Consultation to find out what method fits with you. You may even find that getting the entire jaw/neck complex fixed may be the key to solving your TMD.