In my years of serving families in Smiths Falls as a chiropractor I developed an interest in neck and jaw problems that combine my experience as a chiropractor with a range of other skills, enabling me to help many very challenging patients, using a system called chirodontics.
Chirodontics combines the diagnosis of chiropractic with concepts of advanced dentistry and lifestyle recommendations. It is a coordinated team approach that can help with many different health concerns, such as: TMJ dysfunction, headaches and facial pain syndromes. Patients are co-managed by a chiropractor, a dentist or orthodontist and a registered massage therapist, all working together to help the patient achieve their health goals.
So how does a model of health that encompasses the whole body and encourages a team approach evolve from something that usually sounds like: “Doc, it hurts right here, my face, my jaw, my neck!”
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Well, the action of the jaw and teeth in chewing and talking make it one of the most actively used, and least understood areas of the body. The jaw can be a focus point for storing chronic stress as well. The muscles that control the jaw region are some of the strongest in the body. The face, jaw and neck are all controlled by the same nerve, called the trigeminal nerve. Most of what we feel, and the movement of many of the muscles moving the jaw is from this brain connection. Current research can now confirm that all concerns with biting action involve not just the jaw joint, but also the top three vertebrae of the neck. These areas always act in together, because the main connections for the trigeminal nerve sit in the upper neck region. Any interference to nerve messaging in this region will affect the facial muscles as well. This is why a night bite guard may not be a solution, as it can turn a small jaw problem into a big neck and headache problem.
Jaw problems are commonly called Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD). TMD is very common. If you include people with and without pain from TMD, up to 70 per cent of all people would be affected by TMD.
Who develops this concern? People after dental surgery, chronic computer workers and gamers, folks unable to adapt to the stress in their lives, people with ill-fitting dentures, or individuals who brux or clench their teeth.
TMD commonly arises from breathing problems that start in childhood. As a young child grows, they experience two powerful forces on their upper jaw: the tongue pushing outwards, and the cheeks and lips pulling inwards. As the body grows, and teeth come in, this balance of forces allows for a well-shaped palate and upper jaw.
In a child suffering from breathing problems, we typically see irritation at the tonsils or adenoids (which are critical organs of the immune system) resulting from allergies, perhaps to pet dander, mould or foods. This irritation narrows and restricts the child’s airway, which decreases the child’s ability to breathe through their nose. In order to breathe, a child will reposition their tongue forward from the normal spot at the roof of the mouth. The tongue then sits lower in the mouth, behind the bottom teeth. This change in tongue position, called mouth-breathing, allows air to flow easily over the tongue.
Young children with this tongue position will have a typical mouth-breather facial look that is important to recognize and assess; Dark circles under the eyes, and a lower lip that hangs open with a visible tongue are typical. This condition is associated with snoring, sleep deprivation in a child and even ADHD.
The changes associated with mouth-breathing result in further postural changes in the development of the teeth and head position on the neck and shoulders. With mouth-breathing, inefficient muscles move a poorly positioned jaw that now has teeth in poor contact. To find the force required to coordinate jaw movement, the body will then reach out and recruit many other groups of neck and facial muscles.
The longer this syndrome is unrecognized and untreated, the more fatigued the body will become. These distortions eventually create a whole body temporomandibular disorder. Tired muscles and joints usually become very painful in time.
Postural changes will expand over larger areas of the body and become worse with time. Changes include: a tilted head, slouched posture, a head forward position, a high shoulder, and a lack of coordination. Eventually we will see a clicking jaw, cracked teeth from the improper action of the powerful muscles, receding gums (often from clenching), ear fullness and dizziness, face pain, headaches, neck pain, back pain and the list goes on.
When patients come into our office saying,“It hurts here Doc, my face, my jaw, my neck,” the best approach is to figure out how that issue developed in the first place, and work towards a lasting solution.
Recognizing this problem in childhood helps children avoid negative postural changes, and achieve greater health as they continue to grow and develop. Chirodontics can help by providing the insight and tools needed to recognize, diagnose and assist children and adults in need of this approach.
Dr. Mark Czubak has practiced at Smiths Falls Family Chiropractic and Wellness for 20 years and has specialized interest and training in head, face, neck and occlusal (bite) concerns.
This article first appeared in the June issue of Hometown News. Read more of the June issue in our digital version.