TMJ pain and discomfort is a common ailment that affects many people, more often women than men. When the TMJ (temporal mandibular joint) is not tracking properly, a person is said to have TMJD (the D is for dysfunction), though many people commonly say, “I have TMJ.” Well, we all do. Muscle imbalances within the jaw, cranium (head), and neck can cause the TMJ to not open and/or close properly. This can result in a jaw that hurts, pops, clicks, can’t open all the way, can’t close properly, deviates or zigzags when opening or closing, or tires when chewing. TMJD affects a lot of people and may be the cause of their headaches, neck aches, irritability, fatigue, and even constantly biting of their jaw or lip. The muscle imbalances causing the problems are commonly due to past injuries to the head, neck, or jaw itself. The TMJ has an intricate influence on the rest of the body too due to the neurological connection throughout the spine. Lowerback and sacroiliac (SI) joint problems are common in those with TMJ problems. Therefore, just about anything can affect the TMJ and vice-versa. This is why someone may only have a jaw problem when they are sick – or their TMJ problems may have first started when they became sick. It is not uncommon for a TMJ issue to start once a woman has a hysterectomy or after she goes through menopause.
A jaw fatiguing during a typical meal or even chewing gum is similar to when any other muscle fatigues. Sometimes it is a direct muscle problem within the jaw, other times it is from a lack of certain nutrients that may help support those muscles.
The immune system has a strong relationship to the jaw (as mentioned above) as does blood sugar. I have seen a connection between TMJ problems and blood sugar handling problems (dysglycemia) and even tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
Often the TMJ is the symptom, and not the cause. Another great example is grinding of the teeth at night (bruxism). This is a stress problem that the person is not dealing with – it is usually not a TMJ problem (but a TMJ symptom). A night guard may keep you from destroying your teeth, but it won’t address the problem.