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March 21, 2018  |  Login
by James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D.

The temporomandibular joint connects the jawbone to the skull. When it is functioning properly, the bones of the joint allow the mouth to open smoothly and easily. Sometimes, however, there is a misalignment of the teeth or the jaw. In more serious cases, the cartilage that protects the joint wears down. Without cartilage to act as a cushion, the bones rub against each other.

TMJ can be caused by anything that places unusual pressure on the joint. A blow to the jawbone, habitual gum chewing, and poor orthodontic work are all possible factors. But by far the most frequent cause of TMJ is frequent grinding or clenching of the teeth. This seemingly benign habit is usually brought on by stress that causes muscles in the jaw to tighten. Another common underlying cause of TMJ is a structural misalignment of the jaw or the teeth (called malocclusion by doctors and dentists) or the cranial or facial bones can be involved. In addition, imbalanced musculature and spinal alignment in other areas of the body can be an underlying root cause of TMJ syndrome. Finally, deficiencies of nutrients such as magnesium can make this problem worse, because muscles tend to spasm and tighten more easily.

No matter what the cause, TMJ is at best uncomfortable and at worst almost unbearably painful. The first sign of a problem may be difficulty opening the mouth all the way or perhaps a popping or clicking sound when yawning or chewing. As the disorder progresses, the jaw muscles will begin to feel tender. This tenderness may develop into an ache or a sharp pain, which can spread to the neck, the ears, or the face.

A note of caution: Despite what some doctors or dentists may tell you, TMJ syndrome is real. But there have been many reports of unscrupulous professionals touting "miracle" cures for TMJ in the form of expensive and invasive treatments, including surgery. Before you undergo any aggressive measures, try the gentle home care and relaxation therapies suggested here. Chances are that they'll bring you substantial, if not total, relief.

If you try these therapies and still have a great deal of pain, consult with a reputable, qualified specialist-and as always, ask for a full explanation of any procedure before you agree to it. Many naturopathic, osteopathic, or chiropractic physicians can help people with TMJ syndrome, using nonsurgical techniques. Acupuncture can also be quite helpful, as can stress-reduction techniques.

Next: What are the Symptoms of Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome

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