We treat patients every day who have pain in their necks and shoulders, the backs of their heads, and around their ears. Daily headaches, sore muscles when they wake, and clicking or popping in the jaws are constant issues for many people. Some of them had forceful injuries like a car accident, where the whiplash action and the force of the airbag combined to cause damage to their jaw joint (TMJ), and to the muscles around the ear, neck, back of the head and shoulders.
These are the muscles that support the TMJs, that stabilize it and help it to function in a balanced and even fashion. This is the most complex joint in the body, and when these muscles are injured, or if the ligaments or cartilage in the TMJ are injured, just one small change can destabilize the whole complex system. This may happen quickly in some patients, but in others, they may not even be aware of a change until multiple "links in the chain" have failed, or the assymetrical function of the jaws leads to an uncomfortable bite or imbalanced wear pattern.
But not all of these patients were injured in a single accident. Most of these patients have a slow accumulation of injury and wear to the joints and their supporting structures that develops over years. Just as with the patients injured in an accident, it may not become painful, but is almost always a source of eventual damage and dysfunction.
As you can imagine, treating such a complex joint is not easy, and it requires a holistic approach that takes into account all the different causes and effects that lead to and prolong the imbalance. Unfortunately, very few practitioners are trained to handle this type of treatment, as physicians and physical therapists aren't trained to understand the teeth, and very few dentists seek out the training necessary to truly appreciate the complex, inter-related nature of the TMJs.
At our office, we've been treating these cases for decades, and we average five new TMJ patients every day. That's more than many dentists treat in their entire career. We see successful results because we combine various types of physical therapy with night-time bite guards to balance and stabilize the jaw, and we can provide dental treatment when needed to minimize the effects of a dysfunctional TMJ's movement patterns.
If you suspect something isn't right with your jaw, you should get it checked out. No matter whether it had whiplash or trauma in an accident, or whether it has always had some little clicks or quirks, it's important to get it checked out and stabilized before you suddenly find yourself in pain, with an uncomfortable bite, or unable to eat the foods you used to love.