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  • Writer's pictureDr Claire Chittleborough

All About TMJ Dysfunction

Headaches? Grinding your teeth with stress? A weird clicking noise when you open your mouth? A locked jaw? Or ringing ears, dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, or swollen, painful cheeks? It’s possible that TMJ dysfunction is the cause.

What is the TMJ?

The temporomandibular joints (TMJs) are hinge-like joints connecting your skull and your jaw. These joints allow for the extraordinary range of motion necessary for eating and talking. The jaw moves up and down, in and out, and from side to side. If we really must, we can talk while grinding food between our back molars, which is amazing when you think about it. But disorders of this joint are common - around 35 million people worldwide are known to be affected. Temporomandibular joint disorders (or TMDs) are often the result of injury. They can be caused by a knock to the side of the face or follow whiplash. In the immediate aftermath of an injury like this, you might not think much about your jaw and so the condition goes untreated until it worsens. If you’ve had such an injury in the past, we recommend you make an appointment to check on your jaw even if your symptoms are mild. But sometimes the cause is less obvious - arthritis (both rheumatoid and osteo), misalignment of your bite, poor sleeping positions and tooth grinding induced by stress are all potential causes. Given the complex range of movements this joint performs it’s perhaps not surprising that things can so easily go wrong.

A TMJ disorder (or TMD) can affect one or both sides of the face. Symptoms can be temporary or chronic. But if left untreated the condition is likely to worsen over time and the results can be devastating. With debilitating headaches and difficulty eating, talking, and sleeping affecting every aspect of life.

What Can Be Done About It?

We’re here to help. We take a comprehensive body-wide view of the problem. We will teach you jaw relaxation exercises and work with you to realign your back, neck, and jaw. This is a crucial, and sometimes neglected aspect of treating TMDs. Whether poor posture is a cause or a symptom of TMD is still not properly understood, but we do know that incorrect alignment can place excessive strain on the jaw. When the head juts forward (think ‘tech/text neck’), the lower jaw is pushed forward. If left in this position habitually, other movements of the jaw that should happen easily and naturally when chewing or speaking are restricted and so the muscles must work harder within a limited range of movement. Everything gets a bit stuck and tension builds up. This tension can cause or exacerbate pain. We take a holistic approach and are happy to work with your dentist or orthodontist for a comprehensive solution. We have the knowledge and experience to help you find relief from the pain and work with you to understand and treat its biomechanical causes.

Here are a few things to try at home for immediate relief.

· A warm or cold compress on the aching joints.

· Gentle massage. (Hint after washing your hands you can massage your cheeks and jaw from inside the mouth too.)

· Stop chewing gum, biting your nails, or eating particularly crunchy foods (at least for a little while.)

· Try to be conscious of your jaw especially when stressed. Make keeping your back teeth slightly separated your new normal. (For a fun little contrast exercise squeeze your face and mouth up like a cat’s bum, before releasing everything to look like a slack-jawed zombie. Repeat this a few times to really experience jaw relaxation or try putting the tip of your tongue on your upper teeth ridge and then slowly opening and closing your mouth for a little jaw stretch.)

· Anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen can be effective for short-term relief, but always speak to your GP before taking medications.

But if your symptoms are severe or chronic or if any of this hurts, stop and make an appointment by calling 0413 774 399

Give us a call on 0413 774 399 or email us at to make an appointment.

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