The Components of TMJ Dysfunction

(Part 2 --- The Stress Component)

This is a continuation of the article in last month's edition of this publication in which the structural component of TMJ dysfunction was discussed. Before proceeding with a discussion of the stress component of TMJ dysfunction, I would like to briefly review the symptoms, which may be associated with a TMJ problem.

The symptoms of TMJ dysfunction are unbelievably diverse, both in nature and in severity. Oddly enough, many of the more severe symptoms would seemingly have no direct connection to the teeth or jaws. Most common symptoms are migraine-like headaches, which seem to come from behind the eyes or the side of the head. Also, there are the headaches or neckaches, which occur at the back of the head right where the neck attaches to the skull. People usually describe these neckaches as "tension headaches", as they are often associated with stress. The pain often radiates down into one or both shoulders.

Slightly less frequent, but occasionally more severe symptoms include vertigo (dizziness), ringing in the ears, lancing pain in one or both ears, hearing difficulties, stuffiness in one or both ears, light sensitivity in the eyes, ulcer-like pains in the stomach, low back pain, and poor posture.

More obvious, but less severe TMJ symptoms include clicking, popping, and/or grinding (crepitus) in the jaw joint; tenderness or pain in the jaw joint; sore or painful muscles in the head, face, or neck; difficulty in chewing; fatigue of the jaw muscles after prolonged chewing or talking; limitations of the range of motion of the lower jaw; locking of the jaw in either the open or closed position; clenching or grinding the teeth; nibbling or chewing on the inside of the cheek; sensitivity of the teeth; and deviation of the jaw when opening or closing the mouth.

When talking about the stress component of TMJ dysfunction, it is easy to get involved in a discussion similar to the age old question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" People often ask, "Did stress cause my TMJ problem?" or "Is my TMJ problem causing my stress?" Probably "yes" is the most correct answer to both questions. The two problems are related, and there does appear to be a direct negative relationship between the two. In other words, stress absolutely contributes to the symptoms of TMJ dysfunction, and conversely, TMJ dysfunction does intensify feelings of stress.

As was discussed in Part 1 of this article, correcting the structural component is essential to resolving a TMJ problem. Otherwise, any treatment (whether it be a splint, drugs, chiropractic, massage, physical therapy, etc.) is nothing more than an attempt to treat the symptoms, and does little or nothing to address the underlying problem. Lets now take a look at how we go about addressing the underlying stress component TMJ dysfunction.

Each of us came equipped with a computer-like organ and system more sophisticated and powerful than the most advanced man-made computer systems on this planet. With all our modern technological development, we still have hardly scratched the surface of understanding the complexities and intricacies of our brain and nervous system. Our brain is like a marvelous computer of uncomprehendable capabilities and our nervous system is a communication system unparalleled. Like any new computer system, our brain has to be programmed in order to function properly, let alone optimally. If you were given a multimillion dollar computer system with only a very basic operating system and no other software or programs, who would you get to develop your operating system and write your programs? I imagine you would seek out experts in software and system development, networking, and programming. You probably wouldn't let an amateur or unskilled programmer anywhere near your wonderful computer. Yet, guess who it is that wrote the programs for your brain and nervous system, the most sophisticated of all computers. Yep! You got it! Your parents, siblings, other relatives, and your friends, beginning from birth. And, if any of them were experts in programming brains you were extremely fortunate. Let alone experts, if they were even competent, then you were extremely fortunate. That doesn't in any way mean that they were not wonderful people or that their intentions were not very admirable. They just didn't know how to teach you to use your mind in a way to produce maximum health and well being.

The exciting news is that your mental syntax can be reprogrammed, and it can be done very quickly. If you have children, they probably do it all the time. They learn quickly what "turns your crank" and they use it to elicit the behavior from you that satisfies their objectives.

The science of recognizing mental syntax and teaching people how to model excellence in mental syntax is called neuro-linguistic programming or NLP. Your neuro-logical patterns (programs) can be understood by observing and listening to how you linguistically communicate and behave, in both verbal and non-verbal language. After learning how you neuro-logically piece together your experiences, a master NLP practitioner can then teach you to alter the way you neuro-logically process experiences and/or events in a way that will not be destructive or "stressful" to you, but will direct you toward health and well-being.

The NLP method is extremely effective and powerful. I personally used NLP to create a metaphor for my life by doing a "fire walk" a number of years ago. I was able to walk through a bed of red hot, glowing charcoal barefooted for 15 or 20 feet without getting burned. For me, the experience was really not about "walking on fire," but about the power of that marvelous computer inside our skulls and an illustration of how we can achieve things that seem impossible.

Those who suffer from TMJ dysfunction often become discouraged and lose hope forever having a life without the symptoms mentioned earlier in this article. What I want you to know is that TMJ dysfunction can be successfully treated, non-surgically, a very large percentage of the time.