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Out of Joint
BY JACOB TRAGER, D.D.S.

An estimated 20% of the American adult population suffers from some form of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD). Coping with this condition of facial pain in the joints of the lower jaw can be difficult since the TM joint is central to communication, expression, nutrition (chewing), and upper body support. The joints' multi-functionality usually means that TMJD has several contributing and predisposing factors. By uncovering, as well as resolving and supporting these factors with multiple modalities, including supplementation, TMJD can be controlled and normal, pain-free function restored.

THERE ARE TWO MAIN ANATOMICAL COMPONENTS, OR ASPECTS, OF TMJD:
  • Neuromuscular - the muscles and nerves involved in joint and support function
  • TM joints (these can be felt by placing the index finger just in front of each ear and gently opening and closing the mouth)
Many TMJ-related symptoms are caused by the effects of physical and emotional stress on the structures around these joints—the only joints in the body joined by a solid common bone (the mandible or lower jaw). These structures involve the muscles of the jaw, face, and neck; the teeth; the cartilage disc at the joint; and nearby ligaments, blood vessels, and nerves.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF TMJD INCLUDE:
  • Pain, discomfort, popping sounds, limited chewing and jaw movement
  • Headaches, neck, face, and upper back or shoulder pain
  • Discomfort in and around the eyes, with or without vision disturbance
  • Ear symptoms, such as ringing, pain, deafness, itching
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Cervical (neck) vertebrae instability
  • Sinus discomfort, fullness, or pain
  • Tooth sensitivity or pain
POSSIBLE CAUSES OF AND CONTRIBUTING FACTORS TO TMJD INCLUDE:
  • Whiplash, which can dislocate TM joints and stretch corresponding muscles and ligaments
  • Unresolved emotional stress, which can result in jaw clenching and tooth grinding, or Bruxism
  • Prolonged emotional suppression can produce metabolic toxins, which can be stored in the TM joint, and may affect normal function
  • Ill-fitting dental work or misaligned teeth
  • Imbalanced chewing, unconscious eating habits (i.e. eating in a hurry), or chewing hard objects, like popcorn kernels or ice cubes
  • Loss of teeth necessary to adequately support the joints, especially back teeth
  • A history of traumatic dental experiences (i.e., undue pressure placed on the jaw during dental extraction)
  • A blow to the face or head
  • Microwaves from cell phones, which can have an effect—especially on the highly sensitive
  • Long-term oral habits, like nail biting and chewing on hard objects
MANAGEMENT:

Focus on restoring flexibility, resilience, strength, and support. Simple, gentle therapies—like massaging the muscles involved, drinking plenty of water, and using relaxation techniques—are good places to start. You might also consider mouth guards and more aggressive treatments. However, an essential part of a natural healing regimen includes proper nutrient support. Some suggestions include:
  • Glucosamine chondroitin sulfate combination for joint flexibility and restoring function
  • MSM (methyl sulfonyl methane), which aids in the production of a glutathione peroxidase, a powerful antioxidant
  • Omega 3, 6, 9 fatty acids to help reduce inflammation and promote joint health
  • Grape seed skin extract (proanthocyanidins) to support microcirculation to the TM joint
  • Amino acids to keep connective tissue in good repair and resilient
  • 5 HTP (hydroxytryptophan) to maximize sleep so the body can repair itself
  • Calcium orotate, magnesium orotate, and manganese aspartate provide mineral support for proper healing
  • B-complex vitamins for stress management and other antioxidants, like vitamins C, E, A, and B and the mineral, selenium
TMJD can be a painful and complicated disorder, which generally requires a multi-faceted approach to treatment. Releasing and managing stress, which can be eased by providing the body with proper nutrients, is an important part of TMJD prevention and management.