Jaw pain, clicking, cheek soreness, teeth grinding, neck pain and headaches are symptoms associated with a condition that over ten million Americans suffer from: TMJ Disorder. It’s a problem that can impact any activity involving the muscles of your face like chewing, swallowing, and yawning. Even talking or laughing can elicit pain.
It’s common for TMJ sufferers to seek relief from dentists. But I’m going to tell you about an alternative that you’re probably not as familiar with… it’s called Upper Cervical Care.
TMJ is short for “temporomandibular joint” and describes the hinge between your skull’s temporal bone and mandible – better known as your jaw. It’s tempting to assume that this joint needs treatment when the area hurts. In some cases it will; but not always. There can be more to the equation… Take a look at the illustration below.
From the side view, the TMJ is located a little more than a finger’s width away from the top bone of your neck. This part of the spine is referred to as the C1 vertebra, or atlas. The position of your atlas bone may play a role in the pain associated with TMJ disorder.
If you’re grateful for the ability to look up, down, side to side, and all around you, thank your C1 vertebra. This freedom of movement comes with a price, however. Among the 24 bones of your spine, C1 is the most prone to misalignment. Injuries, accidents, and traumas to the body can wedge or lock this bone into positions that create pressure and irritation within the surrounding areas… quite possibly the TMJ.
Neighbors Without a Fence
Think of the atlas and TMJ as neighbors without a privacy fence. TMJ is friendly, but he works long hours and likes to keep to himself. Atlas is the kid next door who sometimes likes to play in his neighbor’s yard. It’s not a big deal at first, but over time this makes old TMJ crotchety and irritable.
The Upper Cervical Solution
Chiropractors who focus exclusively on the upper cervical spine will analyze the relationship between your head and neck. They’ll take x-rays using specialized angles and equipment to measure how your C1 is misaligned. Using this information, the doctor will perform a customized adjustment that reduces (or eliminates) the pressure/irritation caused by atlas.
In time, the body will learn to hold C1 in this improved position, and symptoms of its misalignment diminish.
Does This Help All Types of TMJ?
TMJ can be caused by different factors, so it’s important to have realistic expectations.
There’s not going to be one solution that works for everybody. Sometimes TMJ develops in adulthood simply because of a combination of stress and poor lifestyle choices. For others, it develops following an injury. In these instances, Upper Cervical Care can be beneficial.
For patients who’ve had TMJ problems for as long as they can remember (ever since childhood), it’s probably not the answer. Situations like this often involve abnormal condylar surfaces of the jaw and may require surgical procedures to correct.
If you’re looking for an affordable and non-invasive way to relieve your TMJ pain, locate an Upper Cervical practitioner near you. Here’s a helpful online directory. Schedule a consultation, undergo their evaluation, and see what your doctor finds. If you have TMJ pain and they uncover an atlas misalignment, there may be a correlation.
In my clinical experience, patients with TMJ disorders notice an improvement fairly quickly. Monitor your changes over the course of 3-4 corrections to adequately gauge effectiveness.
Dr. Stephen D. Smith, doctor of dental medicine, states: “An assessment of the cervical pain and headache is basic to manual manipulative medicine, musculoskeletal evaluation and/or chiropractic medicine and physical therapy assessments. Palpatory examination offers both objective as well as subjective aspects of information on the patient related to pain and potential referral patterns in the head region. Cervical range of motion is also essential, particularly in establishing a baseline at initial evaluation concerning fixation of vertebrae, muscle spasm areas of somatic contracture and other neck related patterns, all of which can affect the jaw muscles an TMJ apparatus when evaluating TMJ symptoms and causes.” It is good that there is some support for chiropractic with the dental profession.
[Upper Cervical Care] totally cured my TMJ symptoms and many other minor/major issues – migraines also 100% gone, muscle aches gone, memory ten times improved, and much easier to handle stress and problems.
However, jaw surgery changed all this and 2 years later my neck is still not remaining stable. And unstable to the point the longest it has remained in alignment is 1 hour. We have tried physio to relax muscles (still doing 7 months later – small changes but starting to plateau), 2 expensive bite guards made from jaw scans (indicates that my jaw is now too far forward for the muscles to be happy) and even 3 adjustments in the dentist’s office to try and get the bite guard in the perfect spot (floored the dentist for how unstable my neck is).
I really want to get back to where I was before the surgery because that felt AWESOME. Anything I could be doing wrong? Are there other techniques besides NUCCA that are mild and effective for C1 misalignments? Thanks for any comments.
Thanks for the comment, Tamara. I’ll send you an email with my suggestions.
Tamara what was the outcome? Have you resolved your issue. Please share. Thank you.
I started seeing an upper cervical chiropractor in 2013 who treated me and gained excellent results. I began pain free in my neck and hip for the first time in years. Recently I had root canal on upper molar and began having headaches. Chiro noticed my adjustment was out and adjusted me. Adjustment has not held and I have headaches and now jaw irritation. She wants to retake x-rays. I saw an oral pain specialist who believes my issue is muscular which I do as well, but I am not sure how to address since atlas adjustments are not holding. Any suggestions as to what else I can try?