The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the hinge joint that connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the temporal bone of the skull, which is immediately in front of the ear on each side of your head. The joints are flexible, allowing the jaw to move smoothly up and down and side to side and enabling you to talk, chew, and yawn. Muscles attached to and surrounding the jaw joint control the position and movement of the jaw.
If you suffer with complaints of migraine or other headache pain, we would like to make you aware of one basic scientific fact that is undeniable:
TMJ or jaw joint dysfunction, is the major and usually the only cause of your suffering. Your doctors, including neurologist, have simply not received the dental training required to be able to diagnose TMJ problems and how they relate to your migraine or headache pain.
TMJ disorders are a group of complex problems of the jaw joint. TMJ disorders are also sometimes referred to as myofascial pain dysfunction and Costen’s syndrome. Because muscles and joints work together, a problem with either one can lead to stiffness, headaches, ear pain, bite problems (malocclusion), clicking sounds, or locked jaws. The following are behaviours or conditions that can lead to TMJ disorders.
• Teeth grinding and teeth clenching (bruxism) increase the wear on the cartilage lining of the TMJ. Those who grind or clench their teeth may be unaware of this behaviour unless they are told by someone observing this pattern while sleeping or by a dental professional noticing telltale signs of wear and tear on the teeth. Many patients awaken in the morning with jaw or ear pain.
• Habitual gum chewing or fingernail biting
• Dental problems and misalignment of the teeth (malocclusion). Patients may complain that it is difficult to find a comfortable bite or that the way their teeth fit together has changed. Chewing on only one side of the jaw can lead to or be a result of TMJ problems.
• Trauma to the jaws: Previous fractures in the jaw or facial bones can lead to TMJ disorders.
• Stress frequently leads to unreleased nervous energy. It is very common for people under stress to release this nervous energy by either consciously or unconsciously grinding and clenching their teeth.
• Occupational tasks or habits such as holding the telephone between the head and shoulder may contribute to TMJ disorders.
Medical doctors generally treat TMJ headache symptoms with medications, such as beta-blockers, antidepressants, anti-seizure medications and non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Regularly taking some of the most popular painkillers on the market [paracetamol, aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen six or seven days per week over a two-year period] is linked to a much greater risk of stroke and heart attack from higher blood pressure, according to research from a large American study.
Powerful drugs can numb your nervous system so the pain doesn’t register. While these approaches may be convenient, they can cause adverse effects and kidney or liver damage. Worse, they don’t correct the underlying cause of the TMJ headache.
Treating your TMJ headache or beginning headache will be as unique to you as your TMJ. Know that many people with severe headaches who seek medical advice to end their pain usually end up frustrated after fruitless attempts at treatments and simply give up looking for ways to improve their lot. However, there are things you can do to rid yourself of your TMJ headache.
• Rest: Lie down in a very quiet, smell-free room that has windows blacked out by special blackout drapes or cover your eyes with a cold damp cloth that will block out light.
• Support: Support your head and neck.
• Place a hot or cold compress against back of your neck: Cold will ease pain and reduce inflammation and heat will reduce muscle tension and increase blood flow. I liked to use both but I preferred cold.
• Hydrate: Drink some water in case you are dehydrated as dehydration can cause headaches.
• Caffeine: Drink some coffee for the caffeine but I caution you that caffeine can help your headache as well as cause a headache or rebound headache due to caffeine withdrawal. If you are a heavy coffee drinker then do not have the coffee. Some medications have caffeine added to them as it helps the body absorb the medicine faster.
• Massage: Massage your temples, neck, shoulders and back.
• Yawn: Act like you are yawning. This will take tension out of your jaw muscles.
• Relax: Do deep relaxation exercise for the whole body. Lie on your back with arms by your sides and become aware of your feet. Scrunch your toes and flex your feet increasing tension, hold for a few seconds them relax your feet completely. Work your way up the legs, thighs and hips, then hands, arms , shoulders, stomach and finally head, face and jaw.
• Meditate: or use guided visualisation. Imagine you are standing in a hot shower and the water is cascading down your head and over the rest of your body.
• Focus: With your mind, focus on the spot in your head where the pain is coming from. Focus on the pain and try to INCREASE it with your mind. You will feel relief from the pain. This can be hard to master for extended length of time but it does work.
• Chiropractic Care: Patients who suffer from TMJ headaches usually prefer chiropractic adjustments, along with other chiropractic care methods including massage and trigger point therapy. These methods can either be done alone or in combination with one another to realign the skeletons and eliminate the cycle of pain. It can also help to release muscular stress that could bring about moderate to severe levels of pain. Patients who suffer from TMJ headaches are recommended to undergo several sessions to find effective relief and treatment from their condition. This comes as a result of reducing the amount of nerve irritation and facilitate in muscle relaxation. For a more effective long-term treatment plan against headaches, chiropractors recommend regular exercise, stretching, proper posture, and relaxation techniques to help alleviate the pain and symptoms of this condition.
While there are numerous ways to treat TMJ joint disorder, scientific studies have shown that chiropractic was helpful in cases of TMJ. In a 2003 study, 15 participants were administered treatments. All participants showed improvements in the distance they could open their jaws and in pain measurements. Although this group was not compared to a group receiving traditional treatment, it shows that chiropractic treatments show promise as an emerging treatment for TMJ joint disorder.
Many report relief and satisfaction with chiropractic care for TMJ joint disorder. In a survey of 192 members of a health maintenance organisation published in 2003, nearly two-thirds reported using some form of complementary medicine to treat TMJ. Almost everyone surveyed used complementary approaches together with other traditional treatments, and the greatest satisfaction was reported for the hands-on alternative therapies, including chiropractic.