Dr Drew Hall

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What is the Link Between the Upper Cervical Spine and TMJ?

Posted in TMJ on Jul 11, 2019

Is there a link between TMJ and the upper cervical spine? The answer is emphatical yes. The trigeminal nerve, the fifth cranial nerve, has its control nuclei located in the brainstem.  The trigeminal nuclei are responsible for the tone of the mastication muscles.

 If the muscles on both sides of the jaw are supple, relaxed, and are of equal tone bilaterally, the TMJ will function normally. However, if the muscles that control chewing are tighter on one side versus the other TMJ dysfunction can be the result.

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The muscles of mastication are intimately connected to the brainstem and the biomechanics of the upper cervical spine. Whiplash type trauma can result in upper cervical spine misalignment which can alter the trigeminal nucleus function resulting in muscle tone imbalances in the mastication muscles leading to TMJ dysfunction.

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Understanding Upper Cervical Spine and TMJ

The head weighs 10-12 pounds and rests on the first cervical vertebrae weighing two ounces. The head-neck junction is the most susceptible area of the spine to injury. It is also the most highly innervated joint in the body, followed by the TMJ. 

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There is an interplay between the TMJ and the upper cervical spine. Injury to the neck can alter the TMJ and an abnormal functioning TMJ can also cause bad nerve input from the TMJ into the central nervous system causing a host of problems. 

The question is, is it the chicken or the egg? Which comes first? It is this author's opinion that approximately 75 percent of TMJ problems are directly caused by an upper cervical spine injury. Correcting spinal misalignment in the upper cervical spine can lead to the healing and correction of many TMJ cases.



 How to “Read” Upper Cervical Spine and TMJ

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There are many signs or precursors that can happen prior to the full-on development of TMJ syndrome.  Many people experience tightness in the temples, feel their bite is off, or feel tightness in the right or left  TMJ. Commonly these symptoms are precursors to clicking, headaches, depression and TMJ pain that often is associated with TMJ syndrome.



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What Can Cause TMJ Problems?

TMJ can be caused by a neck injury, occlusion problems and unfortunately poor dental work. In our Los Angeles based upper cervical health care offices we find that about 75 percent of TMJ cases respond favorably to getting their upper cervical spine corrected.

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Prior whiplash, sports injuries, or other blunt trauma to the neck can cause spinal misalignment that leads to the brainstem and nervous system interference. Neck injury is one of the things that can be the underlying cause of TMJ.



What to do About Upper Cervical Spine and TMJ

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Chiropractic Therapy for TMJ Dysfunction

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If you suffer from TMJ it is most likely that you have tried many of the conventional routes: pain killers, anti-inflammatory medication, splints, or dental cosmetic procedures. If this sounds like you and you are still suffering from TMJ getting to a trained upper cervical chiropractor can help.

Upper cervical doctors are a well trained specialist who will determine whether or not your upper cervical spine is misaligned and producing nervous system interference. This is accomplished by running several objective tests that can rule in or rule out upper cervical misalignment.

If it is found that you have upper cervical misalignment advanced imaging is used to determine exactly what direction you are misaligned from normal. Once determined a low force, precise correction is made that involves no twisting popping or pulling of the neck. Once corrected the body will go through a healing process which takes weeks to months to complete. 



Most Common Reasons Adults Have TMJ Problems

It is this author's opinion that 75 percent of TMJ is caused by prior neck injury.  In our Los Angeles based upper cervical health care office we have seen hundreds of TMJ  cases resolve over the years. We have also found that dentists who specialize in TMJ in combination with upper cervical care can be the solution for many others. 



Most Common Reasons Children Have TMJ Problems

Much like adults, children are also susceptible to spinal trauma. In fact, a normal child will fall down 2500 times during the process of learning to walk. Burt Trauma, slip and falls, sports injuries also add to trauma to the upper cervical spine during development. 

While kids are more adaptable than adults l, they are still subject to the same laws as adults. Injuries to the upper cervical spine can result in brainstem irritation due to spinal misalignment and result in TMJ.



Diagnostic for TMJ Problems

There are many diagnostic tests that can be used to diagnose TMJ syndrome. Because TMJ syndrome is the result of joint dysfunction it can often be diagnosed by several types of advanced imaging:

  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • Tomography—While not diagnostic, it is helpful in determining the relation of the bones and showing anatomical abnormalities
  • Panoramic radiography
  • Cone beam or CT scan evaluation

These imaging techniques are often used to confirm the TMJ diagnosis that has been suspected by the following symptoms:

Clicking in the jaw

TMJ Pain

Headaches

Limited TMJ joint motion

Cannot open the mouth very wide



Chiropractic Treatment for TMJ Problems

Upper cervical chiropractic care has been found effective in a high percentage of cases that undergo care. As we have stated previously in this article the mastication muscle tonicity is controlled by the trigeminal nucleus. This nucleus is housed inside of the brainstem and can be affected by upper cervical spine misalignment.  Once corrected many TMJ syndrome sufferers find relief and healing.

If you or a loved one is looking for natural TMJ treatment or better health our offices offer a FREE consultation.