Understanding TMJ Problems
I’ll see patients occasionally that will come in and while we’re doing their screening or their diagnosis, they’ll claim that they get headaches a lot. So my first question generally to a person is, “When are your headaches? Are they in the morning? Are they in the evening? Are they throughout the day?” Because that gives me a little clue. A lot of morning headaches are generally generated because a person is doing something in their sleep like grinding their teeth or clenching or they’re not breathing properly.
So we want to find out what’s causing that headache, because it might not necessarily be a typical migraine headache. Or maybe they’ve been to the doctor and have had an MRI and there’s nothing there, and they’re just trying different pills, when really, a lot of times what’s happening is the arteries and the nerves that run through the face and give us feeling, give us pain, they all run through this area in the temporomandibular joint. If the joints aren’t sitting correctly or somebody’s doing something wrong like clenching or grinding, they can put a lot of pressure on those blood vessels, shut off the blood flow to their head, or put pressure on the nerve in which case it causes a little bit of temporary paralysis or a nerve to fire incorrectly.
So they’ll get headaches that maybe are just focused right here in the forehead or the back of the neck. So it can start causing other problems. A classic TMJ symptom for somebody who really does have a problem with their TMJ joints is they will not be complaining about their TMJ joint. They’ll complain about the back of their neck and headaches. What that person generally does is because their joint is painful, they generally develop a forward head posture, which is something like this where their head is out here and their mouth is open. Because what’s happening is the joint is being drawn down by gravity and it feels better to the joint. It’s an adaptive reflex.
The problem is we weren’t designed to have our heads out here all the time, and the neck goes bad after years of that. So that’s a classic example of a problem that’s typically a TMJ problem in which the solution isn’t having your neck adjusted. It’s having your jaw joints adjusted.