TMJ: A Pain in the Neck


Are you grinding your teeth at night? Do you find that your teeth are clenched at work? Are you experiencing chronic ear issues, headaches and soreness towards the front of your neck? Consider TMJ, a condition that is more than a mouthful. Temporo-Mandibular Joint Dysfunction can even be a pain in the neck, head, eyes and shoulders. Many varying experiences, such as dental or maxillofacial surgery, a blow to the jaw, getting your teeth cleaned, teeth-grinding at night or even the mumps, can all contribute to inflammation, pain and subluxation of the joint that joins your lower jaw to your skull.

One of the most unique joints in the body, the TMJ is a hinge that actually slides in and out of socket to allow your mouth to open. The natural position for the lower jaw is for the mouth to be closed, with the teeth slightly apart. Opening the mouth is the active movement, while closing the mouth is a passive movement. Clenching the teeth is a hyperactive movement that requires intense muscle strength and development. Chronic clenching, particularly during sleep, cause the controlling muscles to become hypertrophied and to actually resist normal opening of the jaw, which causes the joint to move inappropriately in order to open. Over time this wears down the joint and allows hypermobility with opening.

Maintaining the mouth in a hyperextended position (open wide as your dentist will say), will cause the ligament package that surrounds each joint to become stretched and loose, preventing the joint from moving correctly when opening. You may start to experience popping or clicking with opening. You may even notice when you look in a mirror, that your mouth does not open and close evenly, often swinging to one side with movement.

This is a condition that is complex, but totally treatable. First, check off each of the things that have been true for you: tooth filling or extraction, mumps, chronic ear infections or swimmer’s ear, teeth clenching, teeth grinding, headaches, vision loss, popping or clicking of the jaw, chronic sinus infection, chronic tonsilitis, tonsils removed. All of these things can contribute to TMJ disturbance.

First, begin with past illnesses. For mumps, take Parotid PMG by Standard Process of Wisconsin. For chronic infection, I recommend Astragalus, Echinacea Angustifolia and Cleavers. For tonsil removal, I especially recommend lymphatic drainage of the neck as well as Cleavers for enhancing lymphatic drainage.

Next, deal with inflammation and the aspects of stress. Adrenal fatigue is the first thing to address with herbs such as Rehmannia, Eleuthero, Ashwaganda and Korean Ginseng. Hemidesmus and Boswellia will help to reduce inflammation which contributes to headaches, vision issues and hearing problems. Finding ways to relax the jaw naturally such as yoga, relaxation response techniques and massage therapy will help reduce the effects of stress and help to relax the muscles of the jaw.

Which brings us to structural considerations. Chiropractic is invaluable to help stabilize the TMJ itself and to maintain the balance of bone alignment in the cervical and thoracic areas. Myofascial Release therapy can work inside the oral cavity to release the pterygoid muscles and help to unload the structural stress on the joints themselves. I also suggest Craniosacral therapy to rebalance the delicate fluid of the brain and spinal cord which pools just above the roof of the mouth, an area that is heavily affected by the action of the TMJ.

Finally, bite tabs or a well-constructed orthodontic bite guard can help to protect the teeth while sleeping and unload the jaw during sleep. This is important if night clenching or grinding is habitual, until the body’s systems are rebalanced which should reduce the incidence of TMJ stress. Often, I will recommend neural work to deal with the internal workings of stress helping to reduce night terrors and jaw tension while sleeping.

So take a load off your shoulders and your TMJ. Your dentist will thank you.