Have you ever awakened in the morning with a sore jaw, or found that it is painful to open your mouth? Perhaps your jaw clicks on one side or even both. Do your ears feel clogged even though you don’t have an infection? Maybe you have dizzy spells, ringing in the ears or unexplained headaches. If you experience any of these, you may be suffering from TMJ disorder.
TMJ, or temporomandibular joint, refers to the complex joint where the lower jaw hinges with the upper jaw. When it is working properly, you can open your mouth wide and slide your lower jaw from side to side as well as a little forward and back! You can’t do that with your knee or hip—so think of how many muscles must be involved!
Stress and anxiety cause many people to clench their jaw and grind their teeth at night. This continual flexing of the jaw muscles leads to chronic tension and even little knots in the muscles. Think how much your hand would hurt if you clenched your fist as hard as you could most of the day and night! TMJ pain is usually felt at the joints, just in front of the ears, but can also be felt in the muscles that operate the jaw causing headaches, neck pain, and even ear conditions like a “clogged” feeling or tinnitus. Muscle tension in the neck and shoulder can pull your jaw out of alignment, which can lead to TMJ, as can trauma to the head or jaw or habits like gum chewing, only chewing food on one side of the mouth and even fingernail biting.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is one of the best ways to treat TMJ disorder. Acupuncture can relax the local muscles and decrease the symptoms of pain and ear discomfort. In addition to acupuncture, herbs, tuina, nutrition and meditation can be used to ease anxious tension, which allows the jaw to return to a proper alignment and produces more restful sleep.
For structural damage caused by trauma, or where uneven use has lead to teeth problems, a dental specialist must also contribute to the healing process. Even in these cases, TCM works as a great addition to help ease pain both before and after the procedures.