The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is the joint on each side of the face that connects the mandible (lower jaw bone) with the rest of the skull. These jaw joints are heavily utilized – they move every time we talk, yawn, or chew our food. However, when one or both sides of the jaw are not functioning properly, it can lead to pain and discomfort while doing simple day to day activities. While exact numbers are not known, it is estimated that over 10 million Americans are affected by disorders of the TMJ.
Disorders of the jaw can be placed into three main categories:
- Problems with the muscles that control jaw movement and function.
- Issues within the joint, such as with the disc or condyle of the jaw.
- Arthritis that causes degeneration, inflammation, or both within the TMJ
TMJ Problems Can Start in the Neck
Many people don't realize how close the joints of the jaw are on either side of the face to the uppermost vertebra in the spine (the atlas). The way the head is able to sit on the neck has a large influence on both the resting position and the movement of the jaw. The atlas can shift out of normal alignment as a result of an accident or injury, or from daily wear and tear. When this happens, it can affect jaw alignment as well as compromise the nerves that control the function of the muscles of the jaw and face.
Correcting the root cause, in this case the atlas misalignment, can begin the healing process, which may lead to lasting relief from TMJ disorders. Upper cervical chiropractic care focuses specifically on atlas alignment and how it relates to the body's overall ability to function normally. Once we identify the problem, correcting the atlas is gentle and precise. Some patients even report an immediate improvement in their level of jaw discomfort.