How people accumulate dental stress and how they can get free of it is the subject of this write-up. I'll discuss
- causes of TMJ Dysfunction/TMD
- its symptoms
- common methods of treatment, and
- a way to cure TMD naturally
Causes of TMD/TMJ Syndrome
TMD results from movement conditioning affecting the muscles of biting and chewing. It's a tension habit that makes those muscles tighten involuntarily.
The jaw muscles, like all the the muscles of the body, are subject to the effects of injuries and stress, which affect voluntary movement (as in chewing or speech).
People's jaw muscles are always more or less tense, even when they are asleep. We should be able to relax the jaws at a moment's notice -- but people with TMD can't do that.
The degree of tension they hold is a matter of conditioning.
For brevity, I'll discuss only conditions that lead to dental stress and not the normal development of muscle tone in the muscles of biting and chewing.
These influences fall into two categories:
- Emotional Stress
- Physical Trauma
Ever heard the expressions, "Bite your tongue"? "Grit Your Teeth"?
To one who has experienced -- and repressed -- the urge to say something, these expressions have literal meaning.
Such repression, over time, manifests as tension held in the muscles of speech -- the same as the muscles of biting and chewing. "Held" means, "maintained at a more or less constant level".
I can't say from empirical studies which of these two influences is the more prevalent, but from my clinical experience, I would say that physical trauma is the more common cause of dental stress.
Although people experience trauma to the jaws through falls, blows, and motor vehicle accidents, the most common form of physical trauma is dentistry.
No doubt, this assertion will cause much distress among dentists, and I regret that, but I can't easily escape that conclusion. The relevant term is "iatrogenic" -- which means "caused as a side-effect of treatment".
Consider the pain of dentistry, both during and after dental surgery (fillings, root canal work, implants, crown installation, injections of anaesthetic, even routine cleanings and examinations). Consider the response we have to that pain: we cringe.
Such cringing may seem to us to be momentary, but consider that the intensity of dental surgery leaves its impressions in memory. Nobody likes to go to the dentist, and the aversion is more than psychological; it's physical.
Let's go back to memories of dentistry. (I hope to be mercifully brief, here.)
If you've observed your physical reactions, you've noticed that during probing of a tooth for decay (with that sharp, hooked probe they use), you tighten not just your neck muscles, but also the muscles of breathing and even your legs. It's an effort to stay relaxed in the midst of the urge to escape.
With procedures such as fillings, root canal surgery, implants and crown installations, the muscular responses are more specific and more intense. For teeth near the back of the jaws, we tense the muscles nearer the back of our neck; for teeth near the front of the jaws, we tense the muscles closer the front of the throat.
This reflexive response has a name: Trauma Reflex.
Trauma Reflex is the universal, involuntary response to pain and to expectation of pain.
The pattern of reflex forms consistently with the location of the pain and our position at the time of pain, as an action of withdrawing, avoiding, or escaping the source of pain.
In dentistry, with the head commonly turned to one side, in addition to the simple trauma reflex associated with pain, we have the involvement of our sense of position, and not just the muscles of the jaws are involved, but also those of the neck, shoulders, spine.
All of these conditions combine into an experience that goes into memory with such intensity that it modifies or entirely displaces our sense of normal movement and position. We forget free movement and instead become habituated or adapted to the memory of the trauma (whether of dental work or of some other trauma involving teeth or jaws). Our neuro-muscular system acts as if the trauma is still happening, even though, to our conscious minds, it is long past.
Since accidents and surgeries address teeth at one side of the jaws or the other, the tensions occur on one side of the jaws or the other. Thus, the symptoms of such tension -- jaw pain, bite deviations, and earaches -- tend to be one-sided or to exist on one side more than on the other.
The proof of the role of trauma reflex? -- the permanent changes of bite and tension of the muscles of biting that are so common -- and the changes you see in the video that occur as this man is freed from those conditioned postural reflexes.
View it and see for yourself.
Symptoms of TMJ Syndrome/TMD
- tinnitus / tinnitis
- jaw joint pain on one side
- orofacial pain
- bite deviations
- inability to open the jaws fully
- neck pain
- spine pain
- postural changes
The jaw joints -- the TMJs or temporo-mandibular joints -- exist just in front of the ears. The excessive compression caused by chronically tight jaw muscles causes pain in just that location, which triggers muscular contractions in the muscles surrounding the ears. The net result -- muscle and joint pain.
Tinnitus / Tinnitis
Tinnitus is "ringing in the ears." Compression of the TMJs induces or increases tinnitus. One explanation is that the muscles of the middle ears, which attach to and tune the resonant frequency of the three sound-transmitting bones of the middle ears (hammer, anvil and stapes), reflexively tighten with jaw tension. You may have noticed that, while you yawn, your hearing fades. That indicates the reflexive connection.
Jaw Joint Pain on One Side
As I said, earlier, most dental trauma occurs on one side. The trauma reflex triggers muscular contractions -- and pain -- on that side.
The explanation given above applies to the muscles of the face.
Those uneven muscular contractions alter jaw movement and bite.
Inability to Open the Jaws Fully
Since those muscles are constantly held reflexively in contraction, they limit how far the jaws can open.
Bruxism / Teeth Grinding
Jaw clenching and grinding are the behaviors of tight jaw muscles. Nocturnal bruxism may be associated with speech and emotion during dreaming. Just as rapid eye movement (REM) during dreaming is a recognized phenomenon, the muscles of speech also move during dream-speech. Combined with hightened jaw tension, such movements could account for nocturnal bruxism. This is a point of reasoning, not of empirical studies -- but it does make sense.
One set of muscles of biting -- the temporalis muscles -- connect from the sides of the jaws to the sides of the head, near and behind the temples. When tight, these muscles compress the bones of the head, producing headache at the sides of the head. Other muscles, the suboccipital muscles that connect the rear of the head to the neck, reflexively tighten with mouth-opening movements and may become conditioned to a heightened state of tension that goes with the heightened effort needed to open jaws held tight by muscles of biting. Tension headaches at the forehead and in the eyes result from such tension.
The jaws have connections both above and below. The muscles below go to the neck. When tight muscles above the jaws displace movement from center, the muscles below tighten reflexively, pulling the head, which weighs about twelve pounds, off-center, causing muscle fatigue and pain in the neck.
When the weight of the head gets displaced off-center, the muscles of the spine tighten as part of the counter-balancing act. Fatigue and pain result.
Patterns of reflexive tension thus to all the way from the jaws down the spine and throughout the trunk, changing posture and movement.
This simplified explanation obviously does not discuss the various muscles of jaw movement indivdually -- but you get the basic idea.
Common Methods of Treatment
- mouth guards / appliances / splints
- polishing of tooth surfaces / neuromuscular dentistry
Mouth Guards / Appliances / Splints
Mouth Guards Don't Cure
The principle and hope of these kinds of devices is that by separating the teeth, we prevent them from grinding each other and we block the action of clenching.
However, from the very name, "mouth guard," we infer that this kind of device doesn't solve the problem, but only hopes to prevent tooth damage. It's obvious -- what the mouth is being guarded from is ... the mouth! "Appliance" and "splint" are other names for "mouth guard".
Polishing of Tooth Surfaces / Neuromuscular Dentistry
Dentists recognize that there is a relation between the fit of upper and lower teeth and neuromuscular tension of the muscles of biting and chewing.
This approach acts on the premise that the cause of excessive jaw tension is poor fit between upper and lower teeth, which is true to some degree but which misses the effects of trauma and emotional stress. It's method is to polish (grind down) tooth surfaces to improve the fit.
This method does get results. However, it's an indirect approach, and one that calls for ongoing dental surgery in a series of steps to a good fit.