The temporal mandibular joint (TMJ) is the jaw joint, where the jaw attaches to the skull just in front of the ear. The “socket” for this joint is on the underside of another cranial bone called the temporal bone. These are two of the 29 cranial bones that, as we have learned from the field of cranial osteopathy, move throughout life. The jaw, or mandible, makes big movements as we talk, chew and swallow and supports our lower teeth in a lower dental arch. Its motion is determined by hinging at the TMJ as well as its suspension system of seven major muscle groups, ligaments and tendons and connective tissue (fascia).
The TM joint resembles a ball and socket with the head of the jaw bone (mandible), or condyle as the “ball” in this analogy, fitting into the “socket” or concavity in the temporal bone known as the glenoid fossa. There is also a cartilage disk that separates the two bones and acts as a gliding surface as well as a cushion or shock absorber.
When the jaw is in the correct position, and the upper and lower teeth meet in a way to support that ideal joint relationship, the muscles and ligaments work in harmony to create a balanced, ideal, pain-free function. There are differing opinions on what constitutes a correct position, and how to restore it. A healthy jaw joint allows a person to open wide and function without any discomfort or noise (clicking, popping, grinding sounds). Opening wide, one should be able to fit the knuckles of the middle three fingers side-by-side between the upper and lower edges of the front teeth. Less than that may suggest jaw tightness or limitation.
TMJ symptoms may include: headaches; jaw aches; stiffness; earaches; congestion; ringing in the ears; clicking, popping or grating sounds when opening and closing the mouth; limited jaw opening or locking in an open or closed position; dizziness or loss of balance; tired jaws when chewing; difficulty in swallowing; and more.
From the medical field of cranial osteopathy, we understand that all 29 cranial bones, not just the jaw, move in a slow, fluid rhythm, providing a balancing aspect to the central nervous system and surrounding connective tissue. With restrictions to this very important motion—such as clenching, grinding or other strain patterns from injuries and traumas—balance in the whole body can be compromised.
If the jaw and bite are “off”, even without noticeable temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) symptoms, a descending issue is created in the body which can compromise alignment from the head and base of the skull downward, throwing the level of the hips out of alignment. This can result in pain in the knees, hips, back, neck and shoulders and as a result, adjustments from a bodyworker or therapist will not “hold” as long—if at all.
After 40 years of treating TMJ dysfunction non-invasively, we recently introduced our newest, most comprehensive and revolutionary whole-body approach to TMJ issues: Fluid Body Dynamics. This approach includes new concepts of pain management and functional movement therapeutics; cutting-edge therapeutic modalities, such as whole-body vibration and cranial osteopathic techniques; as well as much more.
Our Fluid Body Dynamics team will begin by assessing your unique conditions and needs to determine if your condition qualifies for the use of this program. Our team then helps create a customized treatment plan, which averages about five months in length.
When indicated, the program involves the use of specialized dental appliances to idealize and stabilize the jaw joint position—both at night and functionally during the day. These appliances are fully functional and not used only for sleep. They need to be adjusted as old traumas and injuries are released and the body alignment changes.
Release of each of these distortion patterns are like the layers of an onion; they can cause restrictions in the body’s soft tissue (fascia) and impair muscle function, blood flow, nerve signaling and normal physiology. As the body changes and improves with each bodywork session (with the optional use of Medicine Wheel’s patented Percussion Table), one’s appliances will be immediately readjusted to reflect this new stability and balance.
The Fluid Body Dynamics system is client-driven, utilizing a case manager who works directly with you, communicating feedback and identifying needs between the members of one’s integrative team.
You are seen by the our integrative team utilizing body/jaw alignment, cranial osteopathic techniques, Neuro Kinetic Therapeutics and myofascial release work. Meanwhile, a movement specialist guides them into whole-body balancing using a system of specific self-care exercises to retrain and stabilize their improving state of balance and body use patterns. To obtain whole-body balance and freedom from pain and discomfort, requires new awareness, positive postural relationships, letting go of old postural habits and compensations, developing positive breathing techniques and getting in touch with one’s own unique ways of dealing with stress.
Normally, within the first month of the program, while treating the primary underlying causes, you can see a positive effect on your symptoms by 50 percent. By the end of five months, you can usually achieve relief of 70 to 80 percent of the symptoms you walked in with, all without medications or surgery.
Once stabilized and living a new life, either maintenance with the appliances or permanent dental approaches such as orthodontics or dental reconstruction can be discussed, if indicated. This approach is a must with children before turning to orthodontics if they are demonstrating a high hip or pre-scoliosis patterns.
We take the time to help you step forward into relief and a positive lifestyle. Connect with us and set up an evaluation today! 520-743-7101.
TMJ and the Movement of All 29 Cranial Bones—An Entirely New Paradigm
In the world of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) treatment, there are many different approaches, each meeting with varying degrees of success. Almost all TMJ treatment is based on the assumption that the skull is solid, the suture joints are closed and that the only moving bone in the skull is the jaw bone and the tiny bones in the ear whose vibrations allow for hearing.
However, from the medical field of Cranial Osteopathy, we know that all 29 bones of the head move with a fluid motion of the cerebrospinal fluid, bathing the brain and continuing through the spinal cord all the way to the tailbone (sacrum). In fact, all of the entire body connective tissue (fascia) and the body skeletal system are interconnected like an intricate pulley system through which this motion can be detected. If there have been traumas or injuries, there can be a distortion in this soft tissue “body glove” that can affect the function of muscles, blood flow and nerve signaling, as well as many other body systems. This is similar to having a kink in a water hose. These restricted areas exist in the connective tissue like layers of an onion, even after the original injury has healed, which can create pain and compensations in movement and function anywhere in the body.
In the fields of structural and manual medicine, we know that all spinal segments affect each other in an “as above, so below” relationship. For example, if there is an imbalance at the cranial base of the skull, we can usually find an imbalance of the level of the hips. Level hips are foundational for a properly aligned spine and a level cranial base. All of this is directly influenced by the jaw’s TMJ position. A restricted cranial base impinges on the vagus nerve, the longest of the cranial nerves, which carries parasympathetic nerve signaling to the heart, lungs, diaphragm and digestive system.
TMJ has often been referred to as “the Great Masquerader” because it affects so many areas and functions of the body, with seemingly unrelated symptoms. These symptoms can drive sufferers from medical doctors to specialists in search of relief. Most people never think to contact a dentist, since the symptoms masquerade as so many other complaints that seem primarily medical in nature. Indeed, the TMJ is a body joint, and by definition, a medical issue. But because of how the teeth and bite define the positioning of this joint and function, it often requires dental support or attention.
With this in mind, when choosing a dentist to help guide one’s TMJ to balance, the best choice is a practitioner who understands the movement of all cranial bones and works from a holistic perspective to create full body/jaw alignment.