In the role of healing patients with chronic TMJ (temporomandibular joint) dysfunction, patients and healthcare providers do not always recognize the relationship between the alignment of the head, neck and the TMJ (or the bite). It is a very important connection that, if overlooked, can have devastating effects.
The relationship between the way your skull sits on top of your spine and how your teeth mesh together when you bite is both well researched and documented. Here is the connection. Your skull sits upon the very first vertebrae, known as the atlas. The atlas provides great mobility for the head, allowing it to move in many directions; however, the atlas does not have great stability and can easily twist out of place.
If your atlas twists out of position - typically due to trauma, accidents, falls or poor posture - your head may sit "crooked" on top of your neck. Because your jaw is attached to your head, this "crooked" alignment can contribute to an imbalance in the articulation of your jaw joints.
Initially, you may notice that your teeth do not mesh well together. Over time, problems in your bite, difficulty chewing, clicking and popping in your jaw, pain, "lockjaw" and headaches may ensue.
While, traditionally, patients with TMJ dysfunction seek help from dentists in the form of jaw surgery, mouth guards, braces and other dental treatment, not all cases of TMJ respond to such intervention. Additionally, these treatments can be quite costly and time-consuming. In contrast, for many patients, the simple correction of the head and atlas alignment can have profound results for TMJ dysfunction.
In order to determine whether you have sustained a misalignment of your head and atlas, you can undergo an evaluation with a chiropractor specializing in the upper cervical (neck) spine. This rare specialty, known as upper cervical care, utilizes two diagnostic tools - thermal imaging and digital X-rays - to accurately assess the alignment of your head, upper neck and jaw.
Each patient's misaligned atlas is corrected by administering a precise adjustment by hand on a specially designed knee chest table. Many patients notice improvement in TMJ symptoms in just a few treatments.
With over 20 years of experience as a specialist in the upper cervical spine, Upper Cervical Chiropractor Dr. Erin Elster, D.C., has maintained a practice on Maui for the past three years. For more information about TMJ dysfunction, or to schedule an appointment, contact Dr. Elster in Kahului at (808) 866-6551 or www.erinelster.com.