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Michael B. Rogers, DDS
Back Pain Caused By Jaw Joints?
Fairlington Dental
. http://www.fairlingtondental.com/

Back Pain Caused By Jaw Joints?

TemporoMandibular Joint Dysfunction, often called TMJ or TMD, is known as the “great imposter” because so many symptoms that patients complain of can be related to this disorder. The list of possible TMD symptoms include back pain, dizziness, ear congestion, ear pain, eye pain, facial pain, fatigue, headaches, jaw clicking or popping, jaw locking, migraines, muscle twitching, neck pain, ringing in ears, shoulder pain, sinus congestion, and many others.

Acute trauma to the jaw joint will usually result in pain in and around the joint. Most dentists are able to treat this type of trauma with hot and cold compresses, soft diet, jaw exercises, and anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen. Patients with chronic jaw joint problems, on the other hand, rarely have pain in the joint. Instead, they tend to complain of neck aches, headaches, backaches, ear congestion or pain, and even numbness and tingling in the fingertips. This article will help explain how TMD is related to these seemingly unrelated symptoms.

The nervous system of the human body consists of two parts. The voluntary nervous system is the one controlled by the conscious brain. To throw a ball, all one must do is think about moving the arm and the necessary muscles work in a coordinated fashion to make it happen. The involuntary nervous system is the part that controls everything else like heart rate and breathing. It also controls posture when the conscious brain is not thinking about it.

The main goal of the involuntary nervous system is survival. This requires placing more importance on certain areas of the body than others. Most important is the brain itself. Second are the vital organs that supply the brain with oxygen. Finally, among others, is the jaw, so the involuntary nervous system does whatever it needs to in order to protect the jaws. Humans can't live without jaws because the tongue is connected to the lower jaw, and the tongue controls what goes down which pipe, it's responsible for taste, nutrition, communication, and the mouth is the back-up breathing source.

Patients with chronic TMD usually have irritated jaw joints, which aren't that painful. Whether due to a bad bite, a slipped disk, or trauma to the joints, one way the body can take pressure off the joints is to change the head position. By holding the head in a different position (usually forward), the bite changes just enough to take the pressure off the irritated jaw joint. In order to do this, however, the neck and shoulder muscles must be constantly contracted to keep the head from falling over. This constant tension also compresses the nerves that pass through these muscles, so some TMD patients also suffer from shoulder pain and even numbness or tingling in the fingers. In order to maintain balance and not fall forward, the body may also compensate by rotating the hips, resulting in lower back pain, and flaring the feet out, resulting in foot pain.

Sometimes holding the head forward is not possible or is not enough to change the bite, and the joint remains painful as well. In certain cases the jaw position puts pressure on the ears, causing ear pain and even hearing loss. Sometimes the extra stress on the nervous system causes other unrelated problems to flare up, such as allergies, sinus problems, and eyelid twitching. And in many cases, the chronic pain combined with the stress can lead to depression and mood swings.

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