The Hidden Health Hazards of TMJ Disorder

Jun 7, 2019

When your jaw isn’t properly aligned, it sets off a cascade of health effects…

including allergies, asthma, childhood ear infections, scoliosis, sleep disorders, impaired coordination, and even gallbladder dysfunction – and your jaw doesn’t even have to hurt to cause all of these problems.

Fasten your seatbelts and get ready for a long post! This is a topic I feel is of utmost importance and profoundly affected my life.

I was in the prime of my life, the healthiest I had ever been, when I fell and suffered a severe concussion. I had foolishly chosen to take heavy duty pain medication for an eye abrasion – and I woke up in the middle of the night and fainted. The fall was so severe it broke my 3 front teeth and loosened two of my back molars. Those molars later became full of dental decay through the passing years, and I finally had no choice but to have them out, because I didn’t want implants and crowns were impossible to fit.

I assumed the doctor was right and it would take just a few weeks to recover from the fall and concussion, but I was sadly mistaken. It seems like the more time that passed, the worse I felt. Headaches, dizziness, sleep disturbances, mood changes, and left sided weakness all became part of my daily life. My health became a puzzle I desperately needed to solve in order to recover the quality of life I enjoyed before the accident.

I fell on my left side, which affected the left temporomandibular joint (TMJ) of my jaw dramatically. It didn’t cause pain but it changed my bite, which led to dental decay and the removal of the two previously healthy molars. It sounds crazy, but I noticed my left-sided weakness got worse after having those teeth removed, and I became clumsy. At the time, I had no idea how much of an effect this jaw trauma could have on my overall health, but I’ve since become thoroughly convinced that TMJ Disorder is one of the most overlooked causes of chronic health conditions.

How Your Jaw Health Affects Your Overall Health

Even if you don’t feel pain in your jaw, your TMJ alignment may be causing a multitude of problems. The alignment of your jaw is a sign of how much inflammation you have throughout your body. It’s a bit complicated, so bear with me as I try to break it down for you.

The trigeminal nerve is the largest of all the cranial nerves, and instead of traveling through the spinal cord, it’s a direct neural highway into the brain. It’s the main sensory nerve of the head and innervates your face, the inside of your mouth, your nasal cavity, the sinuses around your nasal cavity, your cerebral arteries, and most of the dura mater, which is the tough outer membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord. This huge nerve is also responsible for both the sensory and motor components of chewing and jaw function.

The trigeminal nerve contains 100 times more dense pain fibers than any other nerve in your body. When your jaw is misaligned by even a millimeter on one side, all it takes is chewing, laughter, emotions, or facial expressions to send off a pain response to the brain. This pain response leads to an increase in the primitive pain neurotransmitter, Substance P.

Substance P is the most ancient pain receptor molecule we have, and is a major inflammatory response modulator in the body. This means it’s part of some of our most basic biological responses. When levels are elevated, cell membranes open up and that causes a cascade of inflammatory reactions at the cell level:

  • Cells become less efficient, resulting in impaired detox and cell turnover. This is linked to mitochondrial disorders and even leukemia.
  • It makes your cells hypersensitive, resulting in migraines, allergies, asthma, hypersensitive sense of smell, multiple chemical sensitivities, and other allergic-type responses.
  • Because it’s also a major modulator of neurosecretions, once those cell membranes open up it increases your hormone levels.
  • Finally, it’s a major modulator of movement so tics and other movement disorders result from high levels of Substance P. Some of these movement disorders include Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, TMJ Disorder, and even Scoliosis.

How TMJ Affects Your Whole Body Alignment

It’s hard to believe even a millimeter of jaw misalignment can lead to something as significant as scoliosis of the spine, but it’s true. Japanese researchers have been studying bite alignment for over 35 years, and unfortunately their research is not available in the US. This is why less than 5 percent of the dentists in the US are even aware of the connection, but the good news is upper cervical chiropractors have developed an understanding of the related body mechanics and how we compensate.

If we look back genetically, primitive humans’ teeth top teeth bit directly down onto their bottom teeth, from the front all the way back to the molars. Now what we consider a normal bite is when your bottom front teeth bite down just behind your front teeth, which grinds down the height of your molars over time and affects nervous system input. Your front four top teeth are different from all of the others, because they developed from neural tissue. This means they are directly tied to your nervous system.

When your lower teeth aren’t aligned to bite down properly, and bite either behind or in front of these front top teeth, this activates your sympathetic nervous system and sends you into fight-or-flight mode, resulting in an increase in stress hormones, anxiety, sleep disorders, and more. The more you clench your jaw or grind your teeth, the more you increase your stress hormones. Teeth grinding can also be caused by parasites, which means your digestive health has a relationship to your jaw health as well.

Changing the alignment of the teeth from the primitive position pulls the jaw back and the head forward, which not only affects breathing, but affects the vertebrae in your neck, especially the upper cervical vertebrae. Chiropractors in the early 1900s recognized something called Lovett reactors, which means when a vertebrae in your neck is misaligned, a corresponding vertebrae in your lumbar lower back also goes out of place, to compensate and keep your body upright. This is how jaw misalignment leads to scoliosis and other spine misalignments.

Spinal misalignment combined with the increase in Substance P means you have nervous system stress plus movement disorders. This all has a profound impact on your proprioception, which is like a sixth sense of balance and body position. Over time, proprioception is so altered that it creates tics and tremors, clumsiness, and weakness. This is what happened to me after I had those 2 molars on my left side removed.

The Gallbladder Connection to TMJ

Chiropractors and dentists aren’t the only ones to discover systemic connections to TMJD. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has mapped the “highways” that energy travels through your body, and they are known as meridians. These meridians correspond to the different organs in your body that the energy travels through.

The gallbladder meridian runs across the temporalis muscle on either side of your head. The temporalis muscle is responsible for the opening and closing of your jaw, and the trigeminal nerve runs through it. Normally, when you chew food, this stimulates the gallbladder meridian, signaling the release of bile from the gallbladder in anticipation of the food that needs digesting. TMJD disrupts the nerve, muscle, and energy communication and leads to gallbladder dysfunction.

Nutrition, MTHFR, and TMJ Disorder

The primary cause of TMJD isn’t trauma like I experienced, it’s poorly developed facial bones. Facial bone development is hereditary and can affect multiple generations, so you probably have the same facial bone development your grandparents had. It’s no coincidence that most professional athletes have well developed facial bones, with teeth that line up tip-to-tip and a fully developed jaw.

Good nutrition is critical for proper facial bone development. Weston A Price was a dentist who studied indigenous populations almost a century ago, and noticed that facial bone development was more pronounced in populations with straight, healthy teeth. He found that what we know now as vitamin K2 was necessary for facial bones to develop properly.

Jaw use is also essential for proper facial bone development. We simply don’t chew as much as our forefathers did. Our diets average a mere 20 grams of fiber per day, while more primitive diets averaged 100 grams of fiber per day, with a lot of fibrous roots and tougher meats.

Your tongue posture as an infant and child also leads to underdevelopment of your jaw. Your teeth are held into position with the pressure of your tongue and your lips. Normally, your tongue rests on the roof of your mouth, but if it doesn’t, your lips push back on your jaw and inhibit its growth. This is where MTHFR comes in. It’s common with the MTHFR gene mutation for babies to be born with tongue tie or lip tie, which changes the position of both the tongue and lips, and affects not only breastfeeding but jaw development.

What You Can Do About TMJ Disorder

When I discovered the connection between the changes in my TMJ and the weakness I was experiencing on my left side, I immediately went on the hunt for a dentist who could help me. I found the International College of Cranio-Mandibular Orthopedics (ICCMO) and the American Academy of Craniofacial Pain (AACP). Through them, I read the work of Dwight Jennings, DDS, who has over 35 years of experience in this field, and Jason Pehling, DDS.

These dentists measure your bite alignment and adjust it within a hair’s width precision to restore it. They typically use a bite guard that fits over your molars and raises their height, which relaxes your jaw. If you clench your jaw or grind your teeth (and parasites have been ruled out), the bite guard also protects your teeth from being ground down even more.

In my case, I was fitted with a partial denture that filled in the gaps where my missing teeth were, to restore the proprioception I was missing. The difference it made was dramatic. I noticed my balance was better and the weakness I was having in my left hand greatly improved. I was reminded of this recently when I was fitted for braces and stopped using the partial. The weakness in my left hand has been more pronounced since then.

While your jaw alignment is being corrected, it’s also important to start to bring down the levels of Substance P naturally and reduce the cell membrane inflammation. If you aren’t sensitive to nightshades, cayenne pepper will make a dramatic difference in your Substance P levels. Choose a mold-free source and add as seasoning to your foods. While you can take this in capsule form, it’s important you also taste it for it to have its full effect.

For cell membrane inflammation, it’s essential fats to the rescue. Omega 6 fats are essential for healthy cell membranes. These are found primarily in organic seeds, nuts, and their oils. My personal favorite is hempseed oil, which I use extensively in my Radical Metabolism plan.

Omega 3 fats are important for brain and nerve health, and reducing overall inflammation. For the purest supplement source, I recommend Super-EPA from UNI KEY Health. Their molecular distillation process removes heavy metals, PCBs, and other contaminants.

If you have TMJ pain, then it may be worth your while to seek out an upper cervical chiropractor to help align your neck vertebrae while your jaw is being corrected.

And for a daily dose of tips and strategies for maintaining healthy weight, conquering insomnia, and much more… check out my Radical Health Tips

Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS, is an award-winning New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty books including The Fat Flush Plan series and her latest book, Radical Metabolism. She’s been rewriting the rules of nutrition for more than 40 years and is internationally recognized as a pioneer in the field of diet, detox and women’s health issues. 

For a FREE daily dose of tips and strategies for maintaining healthy weight, conquering insomnia, and much more…check out my Radical Health Tips.

I’d like to meet and greet you on my Facebook groups, so won’t you check us out at the Radical Metabolism RevolutionFat Flush Nation, or my Inner Circle!

12 Comments

  1. Jill

    This is excellent information. I am undergoing TMJ treatment and wearing a splint on my lower teeth. My dentist also discovered I had a tongue tie. A simple laser procedure released it and made a huge difference with my upper back tension. I see an upper cervical Chiropractor and also a Myofascial Release Massage Therapist. Releasing fascia blockages in my head and neck has been very beneficial. I am reading Radical Metabolism now and look forward to undertaking the program in a couple of weeks. Thank you very much Dr. Gittleman for your lifesaving work!

    Reply
  2. Lisa

    I have TMJ, which has been greatly relieved, by Cranial Sacral work, myofascial work, and Chiropractic work.

    Reply
  3. Kim

    Thank you so much for this info. I have been having such tenderness and pain in my jaw after a crown was added for a cracked tooth. The dentist caused me so much pain, literal tears and just a horrific experience that I’ve just giving up and have learned to live with this pain. I’m young, but don’t want problems when I get older. I’ve found the specialized dentist in my area and just made an appointment. Thank you again ALG!

    Reply
  4. Ching Cherie

    Ann Louise
    We can count on you to tie loose pieces of info together
    Thank you
    You are my “Adele Davis”
    Hugs
    Cherie

    Reply
  5. Claudia

    This is amazing information. I lost three molars to osteonecrosis a year ago, and I’ve experienced many of these problems since. I’m sharing your article with my holistic dentist.

    Reply
    • Patricia

      Ok I do grind my teeth since I have chronic Lyme. Now my front tooth root is being absorbed by my body. I already have a hyperactive immune system many food allergies plus I am celiac. So I can not do implants. I am very scared of loosing my front tooth. The other front tooth has a root canal. Who should I go see about this? My regular dentist says it from a impact injury when I was in a car accident at 12 years old and my mouth hit the dashboard. Have you heard of this before?

      Reply
      • Team ALG

        Patricia, yes we have heard of situations similar to yours. We suggest finding a holistic dentist.

        Reply
  6. Laura Hitchman

    I’ve had TMJ for 17 years. My chiropractor has helped a lot! My old dentist was amazing, but our insurance changed & I’m so sad I don’t see her anymore. Anyone with crowns needs to floss daily to extend the life of the crowns!

    Reply
  7. Kim

    I have found neurocranial reconstruction to reverse severe TMJD symptoms. It’s not a well know treatment, but I highly recommend it.

    Reply
  8. Rhyena Halpern

    This is very interesting because I use a splint at night, due to a chronic bite problem, where my teeth do not fit together at all on the right side and thus all of my chewing is on the left side where two teeth make contact. I have had alot of chiropractic work on my neck and back, but still suffer from a torque where my left side is torqued out of alignment with my right side, causing alot of pain from jaw, neck, arm, shoulder, down entire spine, into sacrum, hip and even leg. We cannot determine which happened first, the torque or the bit problem, but my TMJ has been fairly extreme. The orthodontist wanted to do surgery, break my jaw in two places, and use braces. I declined. I keep with the splint and hope I can unravel this.

    Reply
  9. Sean

    It’s funny how similar my story and yours is. Developmental facial growth as the primary etiological factor. Dizzy in the middle of the night and head trauma. A shift in the bite leading to worsening symptoms. Thinking about figuring these problems out as ‘gathering puzzle pieces’.

    When reading your article I recognized the paradigm you described as being the same as that of Dwight Jennings, and that being confirmed later in the article was interesting. I think there’s a lot more to TMD than Dr. Jennings advocates for, and disagree on the degree of alignment (TMJs are so adaptable). Nevertheless, I’ve continually noted instances in Japanese entertainment media of the bite affecting posture in a manner that suggests it’s more recognized than it is here. I’d be intensely curious to see any of the research articles that you or Dr. Jennings might be able to share.

    I’m still figuring out how to access care myself. I’m trying to write a medical appeal to insurers as a first step to escalating this however far it needs to go. So, more research literature the better. It’s been difficult as I’ve found that treating doctors have basically given up on those who are disabled by their jaw issues; I’m going to have to find a way to solve what the people with eight years of medical school and decades of clinical practice deem too hard to accomplish.

    Reply
  10. Kathleen Sullivan

    Wow, Ann Louise, what an informative post on TMJ–I’ve had it all my life along with bruxism so severe that my teeth are fractured. In childhood, my underdeveloped jaw was too small for my second set of teeth, so perfectly good teeth were pulled. The teeth became misaligned with many not in their proper place in my jaw. So at age 13, I had braces. I had no idea TMJ issues caused so many other problems. Thank you for sharing your research and experience.

    Reply

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