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Jaw pain and temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD)

May 9, 2011

Sharks are interesting animals.  They don’t blink; they need to stay in constant motion in order to keep water flowing over their gills; and it’s common knowledge that when they get to a certain size they develop an insatiable taste for human blood.  Another thing that we have in common with sharks* is the need to keep our mouths (in particular our jaw) in a balanced state for proper mechanical function.  In the case of the shark, they can actually dislocate their jaw to enlarge their mouth when taking big bites.  This helps to reduce some of the pressure and stress on the jaw thus allowing a pleasurable eating experience.  For people, however, dislocation is not normally possible (or advisable).  but we can take note to reduce the pressure and stresses we place on our jaw in other ways.

Now sharks don’t have a lot of jaw pain – this is self-evident by the lack of surveys filled out by sharks indicating as such.  Humans, on the other hand, have a much higher prevalence of jaw pain, also know as temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD): it is estimated that between 85-95% of people will develop some TMD related symptoms in their lifetime with women more often being afflicted than men.

The temporomandibular joint itself is fairly robust.  It’s surrounded and controlled by some powerful muscles including the masseter, the pterygoids, and the temporalis among others.  The action of this joint consists of more than just opening and closing – take a moment and you’ll see that you can move your jaw through a variety of planes.  There is a delicate interplay of bone, muscle, and ligament which can be subject to stress, strain, and over-use like any other joint.  Many of us may notice some minor popping or clicking periodically, but dysfunction has a way of building up over time and can result in some more annoying symptoms:

Jaw pain

Ear pain

Headaches

Loud popping/clicking while chewing

Difficulty opening/closing the mouth

Neck pain

Some of the risk factors which may predispose you to developing TMD include the following:

Poor posture

Stress

Mal-alignment of teeth

Nail biting

Excessive gum chewing

Sleeping without head support

Sleeping on stomach

Bruxism (teeth clenching)

Previous trauma

Of all the things that contribute to TMD, poor posture and stress are among the most common.  Fortunately, they can be well managed with some knowledge and a reasonable amount of effort.

Poor posture and TMD.  Sit up straight.  You’ve heard it before from your mother or teachers – and with good reason.  When you’re sitting/standing tall the force of gravity is most balanced around all of your joints.  On the other hand, when you slouch, especially with your head jutting forward, your postural muscles actually start having to work harder.  In turn they get stressed and tired and can become sore.  Further more, when your head juts forward it causes your jaw bone to shift in such a way that it places great stress on the temporomanibular joint.  This can lead to the clicking, locking, and pain of TMD.  For information on posture and what you can do about it I recommend reading this post on upper cross syndrome as well as this one on stretching tips.

Stress and TMD.  For many of us stress can manifest itself in the form of tightening up and tensing our muscles.  For a short time it’s not a problem, but left unchecked, tight muscles can change our postural dynamics and how we move, as mentioned above.  One of the best ways to better manage stress is through the process of Active Relaxation.  Active Relaxation is a state of being self-aware during an activity designed to calm the mind.  It may take the form of meditation, deep breathing, prayer, or visualization to name a few.  It’s different for everyone.  The important part isn’t which technique you choose, but that you act on your choice.  Check here for a previous post that I’ve written which details one very simple technique to try.

Paying attention to your posture, keeping muscles relaxed, and managing your stress are some of the simplest and most effective ways to treat and prevent TMD.  When more help is required, discussing options with your chiropractor and dentist can be of great benefit (especially when they take a team approach).  But that will have to wait for a future post.

If you would like more information on TMD or finding a Guelph chiropractor please contact us at Clear Path Chiropractic Health Centre in downtown Guelph Ontario.

Photo credit:  Mail Online

*best transition ever.

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4 Comments
  1. Shaun permalink

    I’d have to say this is your funniest post yet. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one with an insatiable thirst for human blood.

    • Thanks for the comment. I’m glad that you got a laugh out of the post. I’m just thankful that I don’t have to regularly treat sharks – not because of the eating people thing, but rather the fish breath (they end up just swallowing breath mints whole).

  2. Shaun permalink

    Also, sharks don’t have bones. That would probably end up throwing a lot of chiropractic techniques off.

    • We do quite a bit of soft tissue and muscle work in addition to traditional chiropractic techniques. Not to mention exercise prescription and education on healthy living. So there is still a fair bit that can be done with sharks (and people). I will admit, however, that my knowledge of specific marine requirements below the ocean’s mesopelagic zone is somewhat limited 😉

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