Temporomandibular disorders (TMDs) are a common condition characterized by pain and discomfort while chewing, which is estimated to affect about 10% of adults to some degree. As with many musculoskeletal conditions that come on gradually and don’t require emergency care, treatment guidelines recommend conservative care as an initial treatment approach, of which doctors of chiropractic are well-equipped to provide.
Following an examination to determine potential causes for the patient’s TMD symptoms, a chiropractor will likely use a combination of manual therapy and specific exercise to restore normal movement to the temporomandibular joint and its relationship with the masticatory muscles. The patient may also be referred to their dentist for an occlusal splint that can be worn overnight to help address abnormal biomechanical loading on the temporomandibular joint. While research supports the short-term effectiveness of occlusal splint use, some studies suggest there may be limited long-term benefits.
In addition to these treatments that are focused on the jaw itself, there’s a growing body of research linking TMD to issues affecting the cervical spine. In a 2021 study that included 60 TMD patients, researchers observed that most participants had moderate-to-severe impairments in cervical mobility, and there was a clear association between neck disability and TMD symptom severity. A 2020 study that included 116 TMD patients arrived at a similar finding. Finally, a 2019 study that analyzed data from South Korea’s National Health Insurance Review and Assessment database found that 48% of TMD patients also have spinal pain, and the more severe their TMD symptoms, the more likely they had neck or back pain.
The good news is that not only is chiropractic care highly effective for managing musculoskeletal disorders that affect the neck but there are studies showing that treatment applied to the cervical spine can improve TMD symptoms. A 2022 study that included 60 TMD patients found that those treated with cervical spinal manipulation experienced significant improvement in the domains of maximal mouth opening, jaw pain, and neck range of motion. This is similar to a 2020 study that included 50 TMD patients.
If you’re experiencing pain or discomfort while chewing or other TMD symptoms, contact your doctor of chiropractic.