When you’re feeling stressed out, how does your body respond? With sweat? Shaky hands? A feeling of tension in your chest?
One thing you probably didn’t think of is your jaw. Surprisingly, it’s a common area where people hold stress and tension. And for manual therapists like our Osteopath, Jessica Bonzon, it’s one of the most popular parts of the body that patients seek treatment.
“The jaw is a common stress holding region for many of us,” she shares. “And over the last few years, I’ve had a lot more patients coming to me for their jaw tension and jaw pain.”
In most of these scenarios, the culprit is the same: temporomandibular joint disorders, also known as TMJ.
Research suggests that 25-30% of people actually have a TMJ disorder. The shocking part? Most of us don’t even realize we have one! We dismiss symptoms like jaw pain, headaches, or a sore neck by assuming it’s “just the way life is”. In reality, it's a serious and diagnosable condition that should never be overlooked.
We sat down with Jessica as well as Dr. Yasmin Vakilian, our Dentist, to get the full scoop on TMJ disorders. Here’s everything you need to know!
What is TMJ Disorder?
Let’s kick things off with some basic anatomy. The temporomandibular joint (aka the TMJ) is a joint that connects your lower jaw, called your mandible, to your skull. “It’s the joint we have on both sides of the head in front of the ears, and it’s among the most complex joints in the body,” Jessica explains.
When someone has a TMJ disorder, it means the TMJ and surrounding structures including the ligaments, discs, jawbone and temple bone aren’t connecting properly and don’t move well together. This can lead to several issues and often causes pain in the jaw and surrounding areas.
TMJ Disorder Symptoms
So how can you tell if you’re experiencing a TMJ disorder? According to Jessica, there are a lot of possible symptoms that might (or might not) be obvious.
“The most common one is jaw pain, especially when eating or chewing,” she shares. “There’s also restricted jaw movement, facial or even ear pain, clicking or popping during jaw movements, clenching or grinding your teeth, headaches, and neck pain.”
For some people, symptoms might be mild and not interfere with their day-to-day. But for others, their symptoms can be chronic and prevent them from doing everyday tasks. Working on a computer for eight hours a day is one thing, but getting through it with a stiff neck and headache can feel extra tough. The good news is that all of these symptoms are treatable!
How is TMJ Disorder Diagnosed?
Usually, with TMJ disorders, people fall into two categories: those who suspect they have a TMJ disorder, and those who don’t even know they have one.
Patients who notice symptoms like the ones we mentioned above will usually book an appointment with Jessica right away. From there, she would diagnose the issue and create a treatment plan to help them feel better.
But for people who don’t even know they have a TMJ disorder, the first step usually takes place during a dental examination. For Dr. Vakilian, our Dentist at HealthOne, assessing the jaw is an important step that she never skips.
“Normally in dentistry, we just look at the teeth – but I personally always assess the jaw when I do a complete exam,” she says. “I check for any clicking or restrictions of the jaw joint, as well as clenching and grinding which most patients don’t even know they’re doing. I also look for tooth wear, restrictions of the muscles, and whether or not they have pain - especially in the morning.”
If a dentist like Dr. Vakilian thinks you’re dealing with a TMJ disorder, she’ll refer you to Jessica who will focus more on treatment. “The fact that we can work together, alongside each other under one roof makes it very convenient for patients,” she says. “They can literally go from one room to another and book their appointments on the same day.”
In some cases, a dentist will prescribe a nightguard to protect your teeth from grinding and clenching at night. “They can be great for relieving some of the pressure in the joint, while also protecting the teeth,” she explains “However, the base of the issue doesn’t always get solved, and that’s where Jessica comes into play.”
As a holistic practitioner who is trained in treating TMJ disorders, Jessica is one of the best people you can visit to get lasting relief from your symptoms. Let’s uncover more about how exactly she treats TMJ disorders through the magic of manual therapy.
TMJ Disorder Treatment
Whether you decided to visit Jessica yourself or received a referral from another practitioner, the first thing she’ll do is perform a thorough assessment.
“We’re a very holistic profession, so I do an assessment of the entire spine, the pelvis, and of course the jaw,” she explains. “We really want to ensure the jaw is in an ideal position in balance with the rest of the body to get rid of those TMJ symptoms sustainably.”
She’ll also ask questions about your lifestyle and symptoms: what they are, how long you’ve been experiencing them, and how they interfere with your day-to-day. This information will help her figure out the best treatment plan for your needs.
“In terms of actual treatment, it’s entirely hands-on. It includes joint mobilization and soft tissue release to restore optimal movement and relieve muscles of the jaw, neck, back, spine, and pelvis,” she adds. Another technique she uses is called craniosacral therapy. This releases restrictions in the skull and relieves stress-related symptoms (sound familiar?).
Along with in-clinic treatment, there’s an at-home component to treating TMJ disorders as well. At HealthOne, Jessica and our other Rehab practitioners use PhysiApp to create custom exercise programs for our patients. It’s a simple, easy-to-use software that shows you video tutorials of how to do each exercise. The number of sets and reps will be outlined for you, as well as a short description of the movement.
“Exercises to relax and strengthen the jaw muscles can be very useful for pain relief and also to improve jaw movement,” she shares. “I tend to give those to every patient, and they really do work – it helps motivate them to do better.”
This combination of in-clinic treatment and at-home exercises is what makes the magic happen. And by “magic”, of course, we mean relief of your TMJ symptoms!
Jessica shares that every patient is different, but you can expect to feel relief after only one treatment. And in most cases, 3-5 treatments are enough to produce substantial results. TMJ disorders are tricky because we use our jaws so often. This includes everyday movements like eating, talking and yawning as well as specific habits like clenching or grinding your teeth. This can slow down the process a bit, which is why it’s also important to address the root cause.
What Causes TMJ Disorders?
So, what is the root cause of a TMJ disorder, exactly? It’s a combination of factors that can vary from person to person. Here’s a breakdown of the most common symptoms Jessica sees in her patients:
- Stress. This is because stress can cause the facial and jaw muscles to clench your teeth.
- Trauma. Examples can include things like whiplash or concussions.
- Tongue posture or breathing. Remember: everything is connected.
- Clenching and grinding. A lot of people do this at night without realizing it.
- Poor posture/ergonomics. This has become more common in the last few years.
Most people, at a base level, can identify with #1 and #5. The last couple of years have put everyone through unforeseen changes and stress as a result. Working from home has also become the norm for a lot of people, which is often accompanied by more time being hunched over a computer.
All of these factors can accumulate in the body, causing the gradual progression of your TMJ symptoms.
“I wouldn’t say it’s something you wake up with one day,” Jessica says. “It takes several years to develop, which is why prevention and early intervention are really key in my opinion.”
You don’t have to be experiencing chronic pain to get your TMJ looked at. Even subtle jaw pain, or clicking you haven’t heard before, is enough of a reason to pay a visit to an Osteopath.
TMJ Disorder Toronto
As an Osteopath who specializes in treating TMJ disorders, Jessica is one of the best professionals you can visit for effective treatment and relief! She was also nominated Best Osteopathic Manual Practitioner in Toronto Readers’ Choice Awards. Learn more about that here.
“I certainly believe 100% in what I do, but other forms of manual therapy like physio and chiro can also work,” she shares. “I even have patients who also get Botox for their TMJ. That collaboration between different professions is so valuable to help our patients in the most effective way.”
At HealthOne, our goal is to help you live an inspired and healthy life. If you suffer from TMJ disorders, visiting knowledgeable practitioners can help you live a life with fewer aches and pain. Jessica as well as our physiotherapists, chiropractors, dentists, family doctors, and injectables specialists can all play a key role in helping you recover from a TMJ disorder.
“It’s not something you have to deal with for the rest of your life, and I think that’s super important,” Jessica concludes. “Whether you choose manual therapy, seeing an osteopath, injections, whatever you decide is best for you – remember that you’re not alone. There are treatment options out there!”
So, take a minute, unclench your jaw, and book an appointment with Jessica to get started!
One Life. Live Inspired.