Many people don’t realize how much of an impact your oral health can have on the rest of your body. Oral health problems can cause ailments in various parts of your body and negatively affect your overall health. Patients suffering from TMJ (Temporomandibular disorder, also referred to as TMD) might think the only side effect of this disorder is chronic jaw pain, but in reality, TMJ can cause many ailments. This jaw joint is actually made of muscles, nerves, and bone–with nearly 40% of the body’s nerve impulses running through this joint, it’s easy to see how it can affect numerous seemingly unconnected parts of your body.

What is TMJ/TMD?

Jaw disorders occur when there is pain in the jaw joint (which connects the jaw to the temporal bones of the skull) and surrounding tissues that limit the movement and function of the jaw. The patient often feels pain that radiates to their face and ears, clicking or popping sounds when opening the jaw, and tenderness in the muscles surrounding the jaw. Some people have pain in the neck or shoulders and chronic headaches. The cause of TMJ is often difficult to pinpoint–it can be caused by injury, infection, arthritis, autoimmune diseases, stress, and genetics. Studies show that twice as many women are affected by TMJ than men.

In addition to the chronic pain in the facial area and neck that TMJ can cause, it also has been found to cause other health issues such as:

  • Poor digestion. Your digestive health can be adversely affected by TMJ. According to a recent study at the University of Massachussetts, TMJ patients had over 100% more digestive problems than those without a jaw disorder. The first step in digestion is chewing, and TMJ can make it difficult to chew food properly. Unchewed food is more difficult to digest, which also affects your intestines’ ability to absorb necessary nutrients.
  • Migraines. Pain radiating from a jaw disorder travels to other parts of your skull and can cause migraines. Migraines happen repeatedly and include throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head, sensitivity to light, nausea, and sensory changes. There are connections between patients suffering from migraines and jaw disorders due to grinding and clenching the teeth.
  • Unhealthy sleep patterns. Chronic pain in the jaw and grinding of the teeth can cause major disruptions to your normal sleep pattern. This causes you to be less alert during the day, have achy muscles and body pain, and can also lower your body’s natural immunity.
  • Immune dysfunction. Patients with TMJ often have a compromised immune system. This is due in part to chronic stress, which causes both complications. Chewing problems can also lead to immune disorders because nearly 80% of your immune tissue is located in your gut-digestive problems caused by TMJ will adversely affect your immunity. Undigested foods can trigger alarms in your immune system, causing it to attack–in addition to messing up your immune system, this can also cause food sensitivities and inflammation. An improperly functioning immune system means a higher risk of infection and the development of chronic diseases.

If you believe you may be suffering from TMJ/TMD, your health care professional and dentist can help you diagnose and treat the issue. There are many other conditions that can cause similar symptoms, so it is important to rule them out. Chronic stress is often to blame for this jaw disorder, so regularly practicing a stress management routine can be very helpful in alleviating the condition. If your dentist believes stress is causing you to grind your teeth while you’re sleeping, you might benefit from wearing a mouth guard. Contact us to talk about your concerns before a possible jaw disorder causes unnecessary damage to your overall health.