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  • Jihyuk Park

Balance in jaw, balance in body

Updated: May 1, 2018

If you have experienced click sound in your jaw joint or felt pain as you talk, chew and yawn, then you might have what is called temporomandibular joint disorders or TMJ. Simply speaking, TMJ disorders refer to a number of jaw problems caused by the movement of jaw joint.

Patients often notice the dislocation of TMJ through the noise and pain during jaw movement. If the symptoms get worse, the mandibular movement can be further restricted. Although one might assume that the symptoms of TMJ disorders are localized to the imbalance of only the jaw, recent studies have shown that it may suggest more structural issues regarding the spine and posture, and may even affect the neurological stimulations in the brain.

How can the imbalance of such a small part of the body cause spinal and postural problems? The answer lies in the second neck bone called axis. As its name suggests, the axis acts as the center of jaw rotation, especially when the mouth opens all the way down. So when the mandible slides down from the temporomandibular joint, certain amount of pressure goes to the axis. If the TMJ is out of balance, it causes distress to the neck bone.

The axis has many neck muscles attached to it coordinating the movement of the neck. If under stress, the axis rotates in one direction and this triggers one side of the neck muscles to contract, causing the head to fall to the side or forward head posture. So the imbalance in jaw is propagated to the overall imbalance of the neck.

Then it is a domino effect down the road. The head weighs about the same as a bowling ball and the upper cervical bones and molar bites distribute that weight evenly like four legs of a table. If one of the legs starts to bear more weight than the others, all kinds of functional and structural problems ensue. Because the uneven distribution of weight in upper joints calls for compensation in lower parts of the spine, it causes the dislocation of back bones, uneven pelvic posture, or asymmetry of legs. Eventually these can manifest in your gait as you feel something is odd when you walk.

It is like buttoning your shirt in the wrong hole from the top and then getting the rest of them all wrong. Do you see now how the jaw joint is like the very top button in your shirt?

In my practice, I prescribe a specially designed intraoral appliance to adjust the bite, thus restabilizing the weight distribution among the neck bones and molar occlusion. I also do acupuncture treatment and manual therapy to relieve tension around the TMJ area and related neck muscles. If inflammation is involved and causes pain globally in the spine, I prescribe herbal medicine. For patients whose case is complicated, I work with dentists and physical therapists.



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