TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint) Syndrome
The temporomandibular joint connects the jawbone to the skull. When it is function- ing properly, the bones of the joint allow the mouth to open smoothly and easily. Sometimes, however, there is a misalignment of the teeth or the jaw. In more serious cases, the cartilage that protects the joint wears down. Without cartilage to act as a cushion, the bones rub against each other.
TMJ can be caused by anything that places unusual pressure on the joint. A blow to the jawbone, habitual gum chewing, and poor orthodontic work are all possible fac- tors. But by far the most frequent cause of TMJ is frequent grinding or clenching of the teeth. This seemingly benign habit is usually brought on by stress that causes mus- cles in the jaw to tighten. Another common underlying cause of TMJ is a structural misalignment of the jaw or the teeth (called malocclusion by doctors and dentists) or the cranial or facial bones can be involved. In addition, imbalanced musculature and spinal alignment in other areas of the body can be an underlying root cause of TMJ syndrome. Finally, deﬁciencies of nutrients such as magnesium can make this prob- lem worse, because muscles tend to spasm and tighten more easily.
No matter what the cause, TMJ is at best uncomfortable and at worst almost unbearably painful. The ﬁrst sign of a problem may be difﬁculty opening the mouth
all the way or perhaps a popping or clicking sound when yawning or chewing. As the disorder progresses, the jaw muscles will begin to feel tender. This tenderness may develop into an ache or a sharp pain, which can spread to the neck, the ears, or the face.
A note of caution: Despite what some doctors or dentists may tell you, TMJ syn- drome is real. But there have been many reports of unscrupulous professionals tout- ing “miracle” cures for TMJ in the form of expensive and invasive treatments, including surgery. Before you undergo any aggressive measures, try the gentle home care and relaxation therapies suggested here. Chances are that they’ll bring you sub- stantial, if not total, relief. If you try these therapies and still have a great deal of pain, consult with a reputable, qualiﬁed specialist—and as always, ask for a full explana- tion of any procedure before you agree to it. Many naturopathic, osteopathic, or chi- ropractic physicians can help people with TMJ syndrome, using nonsurgical techniques. Acupuncture can also be quite helpful, as can stress-reduction techniques.
• Clicking, popping, or grating noises when chewing or opening the mouth
• Difﬁculty opening the mouth all the way
• Stiffness, tenderness, or pain in the jaw
• Neck pain
• Facial pain
• An asymmetrical appearance to the face
• Ringing in the ears
• Tooth grinding or clenching (usu- ally, the result of stress or a blood- sugar imbalance)
• Misalignment of the teeth or the jaw
• Poor orthodontia or dental work
• Injuries to the jaw
• Postural problems
• Frequent gum-chewing
• Prolonged thumb-sucking
• Muscle and spinal alignment imbalance
• Nutritional deﬁciencies (e.g., mag- nesium, calcium)
If your TMJ syndrome is acute, eat foods that require less chewing or that are not as hard to chew. Examples include soups, stews, steamed or cooked vegetables, and pro- tein shakes.
Focus on foods that will stabilize your blood-sugar levels. Vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds, soy products, and ﬁsh should be the mainstays of your diet. Instead of eating three large meals, plan on ﬁve or six smaller ones through the day. You’ll keep your blood sugar in balance and won’t be tempted to snack on sweet treats.
Food to Avoid
Avoid sugary foods like candy, chocolate, sodas, and most baked goods. They disturb blood-sugar levels and contribute to stress.
The following tests help assess possible reasons for TMJ syndrome: Spinal and posture assessment—visual exam and x-ray
Vitamin and mineral analysis (especially magnesium, calcium)—blood
Food and environmental allergies/sensitivities—blood, electrodermal
Stay away from caffeine, which causes muscles to tighten. Tea and coffee are obvi- ous sources of caffeine, but chocolate, some pain-relievers, and over-the-counter cold medications have high amounts as well.
Alcohol has been linked to teeth-grinding. Although a drink or two may seem like a good way to relax, herbal teas are a much wiser choice for people with TMJ.
Don’t chew anything that’s hard on your jaw. Gum, caramels, bagels, animal meats, and hard or gooey candy are off-limits.
Go on a one- to three-day juice fast to cleanse your body of excess sugars. Support your fast with broths, herbal teas, and vegetable juices. If you must have some fruit juice, dilute it with water ﬁrst.
Super Seven Prescriptions—TMJ Syndrome
Super Prescription #1 Magnesium
Take 250 mg two to three times daily. This mineral relaxes the nervous system and the musculature around the jaw. Note: Reduce the dosage if loose stools occur.
Super Prescription #2 Calcium
Take 500 mg twice daily. It works synergistically with magnesium to relax tight muscles.
Super Prescription #3 Kava (Piper methysticum)
Take a standardized product containing 70 mg of kavalactones three times daily. Kava relaxes the nervous system and tight muscles. It is also very good for stress and anxiety. Note: Do not take with alcohol or any psychiatric medication.
Super Prescription #4 Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)
Take 1,000 mg three times daily. MSM reduces muscle spasms and inﬂammation.
Super Prescription #5 Homeopathic Magnesia Phosphorica
Take 3 pellets of the 6x potency three times daily. This remedy relaxes tight muscles.
Super Prescription #6 B-complex
Take a 50 mg complex twice daily to reduce the effects of stress.
Super Prescription #7 Valerian ofﬁcinalis
Take 3 ml or 300 mg three times daily to reduce the effects of stress and relax tight muscles.
Glucosamine sulfate builds cartilage. Take 1,500 mg daily if you have cartilage dete- rioration in the TMJ.
Pick the remedy that best matches your symptoms in this section. For acute TMJ pain, take a 30C potency four times daily. For chronic TMJ pain, take a 6x, 12x, 6C, 12C, or 30C twice daily for two weeks to see if there are any positive results. After you notice improvement, stop taking the remedy, unless symptoms return. Consultation with a homeopathic practitioner is advised.
Arnica (Arnica montana) is the classic homeopathic remedy for deep, bruising pain. It is especially helpful for TMJ pain that occurs immediately after an injury.
Hypericum Perforatum is indicated when there is a shooting, radiating nerve pain in the jaw area.
Ignatia (Ignatia amara) is for someone who is highly sensitive to stress that results in tight jaw muscles and TMJ pain. It is speciﬁc for TMJ syndrome that occurs after emotional grief or a trauma.
Kali Phosphoricum reduces the effects of stress and nerve pain.
Magnesia Phosphorica is a good general remedy for tight muscles that spasm and that feel better with warm applications.
Rhus Toxicodendron is for a stiff jaw that loosens up during the day and then stiff- ens up again in the evening. The jaw feels better with warm applications.
• Large Intestine 4 is a point that will relieve pain and relax the muscles of the head and the jaw.
• Another point for pain located anywhere on the neck and head is Gallbladder
• If you clench or grind your teeth at night, devote a few minutes before bedtime to working Lung 1. Breathe deeply, and try to clear your mind of obsessive thoughts.
• Pericardium 6 will ease panic or anxiety. Because it’s located on the wrist, you can easily work this point whenever you feel your jaw tense up, even if you’re in public.
Because it gently relaxes muscles and eases stress, bodywork offers some of the most effective treatments for TMJ. Experiment until you ﬁnd the ones that work best for you.
A massage of the neck, the shoulders, the scalp, the jaw, and the muscles inside the mouth can do wonders. See a professional for an initial treatment, and then ask a loved one to practice home massage for daily maintenance.
A light facial massage can help you relax and develop a greater awareness of your jaw muscles.
Work the areas corresponding to the jaws, the neck, the ears, and the solar plexus.
For immediate relief of pain, lie down with a warm compress held against your jaw. Add any of the essential oils suggested under Aromatherapy in this section for a stronger relaxing effect.
Other Bodywork Recommendations
A chiropractic adjustment can often relieve pain and bring the bones back into proper alignment. Consult a practitioner who has experience in working with TMJ patients. Naturopathic doctors and osteopathic doctors are also good choices.
Craniosacral therapy is a gentle way to align facial and cranial bones that contribute to TMJ.
Marjoram, black pepper, and rosemary have a warming and relaxing effect on clenched muscles. For best relief, add a few drops of oil to a warm compress.
Experiment with several of the relaxing oils until you ﬁnd a few you like. Laven- der, jasmine, rose, and bergamot are always good choices. Use them in any prepara- tion you like, but don’t rely on just one for a prolonged period of time, as you might become immune to its calming effects.
General Stress-Reduction Therapies
Many TMJ sufferers report good results from biofeedback, which teaches awareness of the bones and the muscles in the jaw.
If you suffer from a high degree of stress, you may want to supplement biofeed- back with another technique, such as meditation or yoga.
Bach Flower Remedies
Consult the chart on pages 648–650 to ﬁnd the remedy best suited for your own per- sonality and tendencies. Following are some suggestions to get you started. Once you’ve chosen a remedy, place 10 drops of the liquid under your tongue. Hold the drops in place for thirty seconds and swallow. Use as often as needed.
For recurring thoughts that seem to go around in circles inside your head, especially at night, take White Chestnut.
If you can’t stop worrying about loved ones, Red Chestnut will help.
Pine is for hardworking people who blame themselves when things go wrong, even if the fault is clearly belongs to someone else.
If you are a perfectionist and deny yourself even the simplest pleasures, Rock Water will help you create a more healthful balance in your life.
If you’re a high-strung workaholic, try Nervain.
• Try to retrain your jaw posture. Every few minutes, stop to ask yourself whether your jaw is clenched; if it is, relax it. Proper jaw position is slightly relaxed, with your lips closed.
• Check your other postural habits. Do you tend to cradle the telephone between your jaw and shoulder? Do you slump forward at your desk? Try to sit up straight, as a general rule, and if you must speak on the phone for long periods, use a speaker phone or a headset.
• Clenching and grinding can be hard habits to break. If, despite your own attempts at relaxation and retraining, you still tense your jaw muscles, ask your dentist about a bite guard. He or she can ﬁt one to your mouth, and you can wear it at night to prevent unconscious jaw damage.