TMJ Disorder: Breaking Down Its Links to Being So Prevalent

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Almost every day I am asked the question: “What caused this?” or “Why did this happen?” Many individuals experience the debilitating effects of TMJ disorder without fully understanding its underlying causes. In almost all cases, the warning signs were there: crunching and clicking or popping in the jaw joints, grinding, headaches, neck pain, heavy eye blinking, migraines or even sleep-disordered breathing.

Unfortunately, most of the time these symptoms are often overlooked, leading to prolonged suffering and a lack of effective treatment options. In this blog post, we will delve into the connections between TMJ disorder and these common symptoms, shedding light on why this condition is so prevalent and how it can impact various aspects of daily life.

Unveiling TMJ Disorder and Its Common Symptoms

TMJ disorder stands as a complex and often misunderstood condition, affecting the mechanics and comfort of the jaw joint and its associated structures. This disorder can manifest through a variety of symptoms that, while seemingly unrelated at first glance, share a common origin in TMJ dysfunction. Among these symptoms, as noted above, jaw joint noises are notable indicators, often dismissed as mere nuisances rather than signs of underlying issues.

Facial pain, presenting itself in various intensities and patterns, further complicates the daily lives of those affected. A noticeable asymmetry in facial structure can also emerge, subtly altering one’s appearance and potentially affecting self-esteem. Additionally, increased eye blinking, an involuntary response to discomfort or strain, may be observed, linking neurological responses to physical dysfunction. Beyond these, headaches and neck pain stand out, acting as significant disruptors to one’s well-being and productivity.

These symptoms collectively paint a picture of a condition that extends its influence far beyond the confines of the jaw, impacting broader aspects of health and quality of life. The interconnected nature of these symptoms underscores the necessity for keen and informed observation, ensuring that TMJ disorder is recognized and addressed with the urgency and comprehensiveness it warrants. In most cases of TMD (Temporomandibular disorder), the root cause often goes back to childbirth. That’s right, birth caused all the problems! As someone who sees these cases every day, it becomes pretty darn obvious that the problems were there from day one. By simply looking at the person and looking for any facial asymmetry, it becomes very clear that this person has deformities and imbalances in the skull–granted, it’s nothing major, but it’s enough to cause all sorts of health issues.

Navigating the Diagnostic Maze: Understanding TMJ MRI Findings

MRI imaging emerges as a pivotal tool, shedding light on the complexities of the condition with remarkable clarity. This advanced diagnostic method goes beyond the surface, offering a window into the internal mechanics of the jaw that other evaluations might miss. Here we can see the soft tissue and the big reveal of where that little disc may be displaced. Through MRI scans, the visualization of condylar damage, bony erosions, displaced discs, and even the subtlety of chronic arthrosis (breaking down of the joint) becomes possible, each finding painting a part of the broader picture of TMJ health.

These insights are invaluable, as in our practice, this aids in treatment strategies tailored to the individual’s specific condition. In addition, the CBCT x-ray allows for a view of the cranium with the jawbone. Between the two, this deep dive into the anatomical and functional details not only aids in a more accurate diagnosis but also provides a way for treatment to target the disorder’s root causes. As we navigate this diagnostic maze, the goal remains clear: to move towards effective management and relief for those enduring the symptoms.

The analogy I like to use is if the front-end alignment is ‘off’ on your car, it will run very rough and feel like it’s falling apart. Well, that’s how the human body feels. If the body is not in alignment, it runs rough and feels like you’re falling apart. In other words, most of the time you can just look at a person to know if they are asymmetrical, and if so, most of the time they are not feeling very good. As it turns out, if you really took the time to look at people very meticulously, you would agree that most of them are asymmetrical and most likely suffer some degree of malady because of this.

Now, just imagine a lifetime of little aches and pains and you wonder why years later your whole body just hurts all the time. Because of all those little warning signs, for so many years now there is a much bigger problem that will take more time to handle. This is why when I meet a new patient, I explain that I cannot simply fix the problem overnight. These things take time and patience.

Towards a Solution: Addressing TMJ Disorder Holistically

The best solution is addressing TMJ disorder holistically, without surgery. This demands a comprehensive strategy that goes beyond surface-level symptoms to unravel the complex web of contributing factors: angulation of the jaw, where the disc is displaced, and any evidence of damage around the jaw.  Personalized treatment plans can emerge as the cornerstone of this holistic strategy, tailored to meet the unique needs and circumstances of each individual. Such plans might incorporate a blend of physical therapy, stress management techniques, massage therapies,  and within our practice an oral appliance (an ALF or Modified Gelb appliance).

This all aims at restoring balance and function to the TMJs and related structures. A critical aspect of this multidisciplinary approach is the ongoing dialogue between the patient and the healthcare team, ensuring adjustments to the orthotics can be made as progress is evaluated. This dynamic and responsive model of care not only seeks to alleviate immediate symptoms but also aims to establish a foundation for long-term health and well-being. By addressing TMJ disorder through this holistic lens, individuals are empowered to reclaim control over their health, navigating toward a future free from the constraints of TMJ-related discomfort.

The Silent Progression: Why TMJ Disorder Often Goes Unnoticed

As you can see, birth could contribute. As later in life we wonder: what could have caused this pain and other ailments? As you see, this disorder often evolves quietly, masquerading under symptoms that do not always appear related to the jaw. The general lack of widespread knowledge and understanding about the disorder contributes to its silent advancement as well. People experiencing a constellation of seemingly disparate symptoms like increased eye blinking or facial asymmetry might not recognize these as potential indicators of TMJ disorder.

This gap in awareness and association delays the pursuit of diagnostic clarity and intervention, allowing the disorder to manifest more complex challenges. This scenario underscores the critical need for enhancing public and professional understanding of TMJ disorder. In our practice, this is one of our goals to create awareness and understanding. Hopefully, this blog has given you a bit more to think about and understand why identifying this in younger people before bigger problems can happen is optimal. Identifying these signs early can often allow for early intervention — I am not talking about orthodontics, but I am talking about ALFs and proper bodywork to help the body grow and develop in a normal fashion for our younger population. For the older population, this allows for a gentle correction providing a relief of symptoms.  That’s what it is all about folks! That little disc.