One of the areas of the body where emotional baggage powerfully interacts with the neuromuscular system is the jaw. Temporomandibular joint dysfunction, also known as TMJD or TMJ, is said to be 90% emotionally based. Other causes include forceps delivery, malocclusion, poor orthodontia, and whiplash. Dentists treat TMJD with various techniques, such as night guards, splints, and treatments with TENS units. These therapies can sometimes be effective but mostly prove to be temporary. When someone clenches or grinds their teeth at night, clearly there is an unconscious emotional component. Some therapists say it is unexpressed anger. If that is the case, and I believe it to be, then what do we do as therapists to treat TMJD? On a physical level, the jaw muscles can compensate for almost any other muscle in the body. Have you not observed someone clenching their teeth to open a jar or perform a difficult task? When a muscle is overloaded, the motor control center will recruit whatever it can to perform that task. Using manual muscle testing, one can unravel the compensation patterns associated with the jaw muscles. For example, the jaw muscles can compensate for weakness in the grip, in the neck flexors, or in the hip flexors. These are just a few of the possibilities. Working intraorally, especially on the pterygoid muscles, and finding the compensation patterns associated with them, is also a very powerful technique.
In the end however, without treating the emotional component, all of this may be for naught. When treating someone for TMJD I always recommend seeking out a therapist who practices EMDR. I particularly like this technique because it deals with the unconscious mind where the source of the trauma is located. Just as I like to work with the unconscious mind using NeuroKinetic Therapy, I believe that quicker and better results can be obtained with EMDR. It was developed for posttraumatic stress for Vietnam vets. It uses rapid eye movement. Treating the emotional cause of TMJD in combination with unraveling the compensation patterns associated with the jaw muscles is a powerful tool.
It is important to remember that even though our clients present with physical symptoms, that not all of these are caused by purely physical reasons. A good therapist, using his or her detective mind, can identify the emotional causes of dysfunction, and work in combination with other therapists to determine what is best for the client.