Two interesting facts about the TMJ; firstly, the TMJ wields more power, relatively, than any other joint in the body – because the mechanical leverages over which the muscles work are extremely efficient – compared with, say, the elbow joint.
Secondly, the nerve power to the muscles of the jaw are highly susceptible to being recruited by the part of the brain that organises frustration, anger, tension, ‘life-pressure’, and so on – but this tension component is often unconscious. So many TMJ disorders arise from the effects of high-level anxiety or aggressive energy in the system, sometimes as a result of trauma, sometimes as a result of the build up of life’s stresses.
As a result, thousands of people undergo orthodontic surgery and wear TMJ splints in an attempt to spread the load of this non-conscious ‘clenching’ in a way that is less likely to cause pain, and damage to teeth.
What is rarely considered is this deep-seated tension component – the jaw ‘bracing’ effect.
Having said that, the TMJ is a joint like any other. It is a complex hinge joint with a disc of cartilage that moves the central focus of the hinge from front to back, depending upon how wide the mouth is to open. It is most commonly strained during dental surgery or high impact trauma.
Another interesting thing about the TMJ is that this, most powerful joint in the body is less than 2 cm’s distance from the inner ear mechanism – the most sensitive organ in the nervous system – which is housed in the same part of the skull – the temporal bone. The significance? The disturbed physiology in disorders of balance is probably caused or at least contributed to by prolonged over-contraction of jaw and neck bracing musculature in chronic stress problems.