Those who’ve experienced a TMJ disorder know the pain and frustration life’s most basic functions—like speaking, eating, and yawning—can bring. TMJ disorders can cast a shadow over daily life. The impact can be profound, whether it’s the persistent ache, the distracting clicking sounds, or the challenge of simply opening one’s mouth wide. While some people choose conventional treatments like surgery and medication to manage TMJ disorders, many others are turning to natural solutions for relief.
What is TMJ Disorder?
A TMJ disorder, or temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), is a group of conditions affecting the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and the surrounding muscles. The TMJ is the joint that connects the jawbone (mandible) to the skull near the temples, just in front of the ears. It plays a crucial role in chewing, talking, and yawning. 
Symptoms of TMJ Disorder
When someone has a TMJ disorder, they may experience a range of symptoms and discomfort related to the jaw joint and the surrounding areas. Common signs and symptoms of TMJ disorders include: 
- Jaw pain
- Jaw stiffness
- Clicking or popping sounds or sensations when moving the jaw
- Episodes of jaw locking (either stuck open or closed)
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Changes in the bite (known as malocclusion)
- Problems chewing normally.
- Facial pain
- Neck pain
- Muscle tension or spasms
- Trouble sleeping
Symptoms of TMJ disorders can vary widely from person to person, ranging from mild to severe, and may be temporary or chronic. Some people with TMJ issues don’t have any pain or noticeable loss of function.
How is TMJ Disorder Diagnosed?
Diagnosis of TMJ disorders typically involves a healthcare provider, such as a dentist or oral and maxillofacial specialist.
- Medical and Dental History: Your healthcare provider will start by taking down a detailed medical and dental history. They’ll ask about symptoms, duration, and anything that may worsen or improve them. They’ll also ask about previous injuries, dental treatments, oral habits (such as teeth grinding or clenching), and underlying medical conditions.
- Physical examination: The provider will generally also assess jaw movement, looking for signs of limited range of motion, clicking or popping sounds when opening or closing the mouth, and muscle tenderness or pain.
- Bite assessment: A bite assessment (how your upper and lower teeth fit together) checks for misalignments or irregularities that may contribute to TMJ symptoms.
- Imaging: Imaging tests can provide a more detailed view of the TMJ and surrounding structures. These tests may include X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans.
Once a diagnosis of TMJ disorder is confirmed, conventional treatment options may include physical therapy, dental treatments (such as splints or mouthguards), medications, and lifestyle modifications.
The Fireman vs. The Carpenter in Healthcare
At The Wellness Way, we talk about the mainstream perspective on healthcare versus our perspective and methods as the “fireman approach” or the “carpenter approach.”
Mainstream “fireman” doctors have two tools (treatment options) for caring for people: an axe and a hose. The axe represents cutting things out in a surgical procedure. The hose represents using medications to extinguish inflammation, pain, and other symptoms.
The Wellness Way doctors are more like carpenters. They assess the current state of the body with testing and then create a personalized plan to rebuild using nutrients from foods and supplements. Sunshine, rest, and positive relationships are additional natural therapies that help with healing.
While these things are considered “complementary medicine” or even “alternative medicine,” scientific research backs up their effectiveness in healing.
Mainstream Medicine’s Approach to TMJ Disorder
Mainstream medicine’s TMJ treatment focuses on pain relief, muscle relaxation, and sleep support. Treatments involve medications, stress management, dietary changes, and exercises.
Common Medications for TMJ Disorder
- Pain relievers:
- Over-the-counter (OTC) Pain Relievers: Non-prescription pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) can help reduce pain and inflammation associated with TMJ disorders.
- Prescription NSAIDs: A healthcare provider may prescribe stronger prescription NSAIDs for more severe pain and inflammation.
- Muscle relaxants: Muscle relaxants like cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril) may be prescribed to relieve muscle spasms and tension in the jaw and neck muscles. These medications can help reduce pain and improve jaw function.
- Anti-anxiety medications: If stress or anxiety contributes to TMJ symptoms, anti-anxiety drugs or low-dose sedatives may help relax the patient and alleviate muscle tension.
- Corticosteroids: Doctors may recommend injections of corticosteroids into the TMJ for those with severe inflammation and pain. Corticosteroids can help reduce inflammation in the joint and provide short-term relief.
- Tricyclic Antidepressants: Tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline or nortriptyline may be prescribed at lower doses to help manage pain and improve sleep quality. They can also help with bruxism (teeth grinding) that may exacerbate TMJ symptoms.
- Botox (Botulinum Toxin): In some cases, doctors may recommend Botox injections to relax the jaw muscles and reduce muscle tension, which can be beneficial for pain relief.
These pharmaceuticals may provide some relief by synthetically suppressing inflammation, but they all have side effects. While medications are typically part of the mainstream treatment plan for TMJ disorders, providers often use them with other therapies.
Other Nonsurgical Treatments
Other conservative treatments doctors may recommend include:
- Stress management and self-care.
- Relaxation techniques like deep breathing or massage therapy.
- An oral appliance like a mouthguard (bite guard) to reduce grinding and clenching.
- Physical therapy, including jaw exercises.
- Posture training.
- Dietary changes (avoiding hard foods or chewy foods).
- Cold therapy, using cold compresses (ice packs) to help reduce inflammation.
- Warm compresses for relaxing the jaw muscles.
For treatment-resistant TMJ disorders, jaw surgery is sometimes recommended. However, jaw surgery can mean lengthy rehab, reduced mobility, and potentially further jaw or nerve damage.
What Causes TMJ Disorder? Traumas, Toxins, and Thoughts
At The Wellness Way, we think differently! The most common causes of TMJ disorder fit into one or more of three categories: traumas, toxins, and thoughts.
Traumas (Physical Stressors)
Traumas or physical stressors can be acute or chronic. Chronic subluxations in the spine can inhibit nerve and blood flow to the shoulder area, disrupting its ability to repair. Examples of traumas that could contribute to TMJ disorder include:
- Poor posture – Poor posture, especially in the neck and upper back, can affect jaw alignment and contribute to TMJ problems. Scoliosis or forward head posture can increase the strain on the jaw joint. 
- Bruxism – Bruxism is the habit of grinding or clenching your teeth, which can stress the TMJ and surrounding muscles significantly.
- Many people are unaware they grind their teeth, especially during sleep. 
- A fall – A major fall may also contribute to TMJ dysfunction, especially one causing a neck or jaw injury.
- A car accident – A car accident may trigger TMJ issues, especially when it causes whiplash or a neck or jaw injury. 
- A sports injury – A sports injury, especially involving the head or neck, can similarly trigger TMJ disorder. 
- Physical abuse – A slap in the face or getting knocked aside the head may cause misalignment of the jaw and trigger TMJ symptoms. 
- Sleep disorders – Conditions like sleep apnea or disrupted sleep patterns can result in unusual jaw movements or clenching during sleep, contributing to TMJ issues. 
- Chewing gum excessively – Chewing gum for extended periods or chewing it excessively can overwork the jaw muscles and potentially lead to TMJ issues. 
- Oral piercings – Tongue, lip, or cheek piercings can irritate the oral tissues and contribute to jaw discomfort or muscle tension, especially if the jewelry is constantly in contact with the teeth and gums.
- Orthodontic complications – While orthodontic treatment is often necessary for correcting dental issues, braces and other orthodontic appliances can temporarily affect the alignment and function of the jaw, potentially leading to TMJ symptoms. 
A head injury, fracture, or trauma can lead to swelling and inflammation in the jaw and surrounding tissue, contributing to TMJ inflammation. Still, diet and lifestyle choices can impact your susceptibility to injury and ability to heal.
Toxins (Biochemical Stressors)
Examples of toxins that could contribute to TMJ disorder include:
- Smoking – Smoking is significantly associated with TMJ disorders. Tobacco may aggravate the TMJ by reducing blood flow, creating muscle tension, increasing inflammation, drying out the mouth, delaying healing, and more. Using snuff is also associated with facial pain. 
- Alcohol consumption – Frequent alcohol consumption is also associated with TMJ disorder, possibly due to drying out the tissues and increasing inflammation. 
- Nutritional deficiencies – Deficiencies in certain nutrients, such as magnesium, calcium, and vitamin D, may contribute to muscle tension and TMJ discomfort. 
- Medications – Many pharmaceutical drugs can cause grinding or clenching, increasing the risk of TMJ disorders. A good example is antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). 
- Hormonal changes – Hormonal fluctuations, particularly in women, can influence jaw muscle function and potentially trigger or exacerbate TMJ symptoms. Animal studies have associated low estrogens (estradiol) with TMJ disorders. Healthy levels of estradiol and progesterone seem to be protective. 
- Sugar – Sugar increases inflammation throughout the body, including the joints.
- Food allergies – Foods can act like toxins, causing inflammation in the joints and elsewhere if you’re allergic to them. 
It’s important to note that TMJ disorder is often multifactorial, meaning it can result from a combination of these causes. If you experience TMJ disorder symptoms, such as jaw pain, clicking or popping sounds, difficulty opening or closing your mouth, or headaches, consider consulting with a healthcare professional or a dentist with expertise in TMJ disorders for a diagnosis. Traumas and toxins are made worse by negative thought patterns and emotional stress.
Thoughts (Emotional Stressors)
Don’t underestimate the power of your thoughts. Emotional stress is just as powerful (or more powerful) than physical and biochemical stressors in triggering pain and inflammation. Our emotional stress can come from the following:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – While the mechanism isn’t clear, PTSD is linked to TMJ disorders. 
- Relationship issues – Relationships can turn toxic, leading to chronic stress, tension, and TMJ issues. 
- Financial stress – Again, stress is linked to clenching, TMJ issues, and facial pain.
- Watching the news – The mainstream media rarely focuses on the positive. Exposing yourself to bad news regularly increases fear, worry, and overall stress.
- Feeling overwhelmed – Stress from significant life changes, like a recent marriage, a new baby, graduation, a divorce, or even moving to a new city, can create anxiety, tension, and TMJ symptoms.
- Holding a grudge/pent-up anger – Holding a grudge creates stress in the body. The chronic stress may show up as chronic tension, creating TMJ pain.
- Grief/feelings of loss – Grief is another form of stress that may contribute to TMJ disorder.
- Personality type – People who are more conscientious are at higher risk of developing a TMJ disorder. 
The cumulative effect of these traumas, toxins, and thoughts can create inflammation and increase the risk of dis-ease anywhere in the body. Reducing these may improve TMJ symptoms and overall health.
The Wellness Way Approach to TMJ Disorders
At The Wellness Way, we dig deeper to solve the health challenges others can’t. We don’t just address symptoms; we run tests to find out what’s going on behind the scenes.
Essential Tests for Assessing Your Inflammation and Joint Health
When there’s joint inflammation and pain, it means the immune system is involved. Food allergies and gut health may be reasons for an elevated immune response. That’s why Wellness Way practitioners will often recommend starting with these tests:
- Chiropractic Exam and Diagnostic Films
- Food Allergy Test: Immuno Food Allergy Test
- Male or Female Panel: Male Panel or Female Panel
- Gut Health Test: Genova GI Effects with Parasitology
Your Wellness Way practitioner will order more tests based on what he or she considers most relevant based on your health history.
Dietary Changes for Those with TMJ Disorder
First, focus on lowering inflammation in the body. That means avoiding food allergies and following a personalized nutrition program, as the Wellness Way practitioner recommends. Here are some general dietary guidelines for those with TMJ disorders:
- No sugar or processed foods – Both increase inflammation and pain.
- Soft foods – While there’s active inflammation in the joint, soft foods will remove extra stress in the TMJ. Opt for nutrient-dense soups, stews, baked fish, cooked or steamed vegetables, smoothies, and protein shakes.
- Gluten-free, mostly grain-free – Gluten is known to aggravate the gut lining, contributing to chronic inflammation in the gut and brain. A gluten-free diet may help lower joint pain and inflammation while allowing the gut to heal. 
- Consume an overall low carbohydrate, non-inflammatory diet of organic whole foods, which supply nutrients, antioxidants, and food for a healthy gut microbiome. Again, those with higher blood sugar levels are more likely to develop joint issues.
- No cow’s milk dairy products – Goat and sheep’s milk products may be better tolerated –and even beneficial for lowering inflammation in the gut, which makes up a large part of the immune and inflammatory response. 
- Avoid high omega-6 vegetable oils, like corn, canola, soybean, cottonseed oil, sunflower, grapeseed, and others, which can alter the omega-6 to omega-3 balance to be more inflammatory.  Instead, use fruit oils like olive, coconut, avocado, and palm oil or animal fats like beef tallow, bacon grease, and duck fat.
- Follow a Personalized Nutrition Program based on your food allergy test results.
- Add specific nutrient-dense foods: Add Liver/organ meats, sauerkraut, and microgreens for enhanced nutrition. Liver is nature’s multivitamin, according to Dr. Flynn.
- Focus on antioxidants – Including things like turmeric, green tea, berries, dark chocolate, and other botanicals high in polyphenols can protect the joints and keep inflammation under control. 
- Eat omega-3-rich foods – Wild-caught salmon, herring, sardines, walnuts, and ground flaxseeds provide omega-3s and help lower inflammation. 
A healthy diet can reduce inflammation, but supplements can support gut healing and joint repair.
Supplements For Those with TMJ Disorder
A healthy diet reduces inflammation, but natural remedies like herbs and supplements can support joint repair. They can help lower pain and inflammation and improve a person’s overall sense of well-being. Here are some herbs and supplements that may help alleviate TMJ symptoms:
- Resveratrol – Resveratrol is an antioxidant compound that may directly reduce joint inflammation and slow cartilage destruction. It seems to work even better when combined with curcumin.  Resveratrol has been shown to alleviate TMJ pain and inflammation by restoring balance in the gut bacteria. It also restores the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and reduces brain inflammation. Researchers have found recovering the gut microbiome is key to addressing TMJ pain. 
- Japanese Knotweed – Japanese knotweed is the best source of resveratrol. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners have used it for centuries for treating joint pain.  Besides resveratrol, quercetin and luteolin in Japanese knotweed also help reduce the inflammatory response, allowing the body to heal.
- Turmeric – Curcumin is the main active constituent in turmeric, which is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin may lower inflammation and protect the temporomandibular joint from damage. 
- Ashwagandha – This adaptogenic herb can help lower cortisol (the stress hormone), potentially reducing clenching and spasms. 
- Kava – Kava and its compounds have been shown to reduce stress, relax muscles, and calm joint inflammation, all of which may help TMJ symptoms. 
- CBD – CBD (cannabidiol), a compound in cannabis plants, may reduce temporomandibular joint pain by interacting with the endocannabinoid system and regulating pain, inflammation, and immune responses. 
Each person is different – herbal remedies that work for one individual may not work for another. Part of that is due to body chemistry, including genetics and allergenic responses, and part is due to differences in the contributing factors to TMJ disorders.
Lifestyle Changes & Complementary Therapies
- Regular chiropractic care – If your posture is poor and your neck and jaw are out of proper alignment, you may be more likely to develop TMJ disorders. Regular chiropractic care may help.
- Home exercises – Your chiropractor or physical therapist may give you TMJ exercises to improve mobility and promote healing.
- Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy (OMT) – OMT is a specialized form of therapy that focuses on the muscles and functions of the face and mouth. The primary goals are to improve the coordination and strength of the muscles involved in speech, swallowing, and facial expressions. It may also address abnormal or dysfunctional habits related to these functions and, in so doing, may improve TMJ symptoms. 
- Acupuncture – Acupuncture may stimulate the release of endorphins and other natural pain-relieving chemicals in the body. This boost in natural opioids can lead to reduced pain and improved function. 
- Physical activity – Physical fitness, including the ability to do push-ups and a healthy body mass index (BMI), may be protective against TMJ disorder. 
Be a well-informed patient! Here are some resources for learning more about inflammation and TMJ disorders.
Educational Resources for TMJ Disorders
Videos & Webinars Related to TMJ Disorders
Articles to Support Those with TMJ Disorders
CONNECT WITH US!
We invite you to connect with us! Find an event at a clinic near you! Follow us on social media. Tune in to A Different Perspective each Saturday morning LIVE to get cutting-edge training directly from Dr. Patrick Flynn. Please set up a no-obligation health consult with one of our doctors today. The best is yet to come! Think differently – and THRIVE. To learn how best to overcome TMJ disorders and other chronic complaints, contact a Wellness Way clinic today.
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