Treating TMJ issues: the jaw and the endocrine system

How is it possible that TMJ disorder can affect the endocrine system? Fasten your seatbelt for a geeky ride!

The primary soft tissue culprits in jaw tension and pain are some small, nearly inaccessible muscles at the upper back part of your mouth toward your ear and cheekbone and in a bit, on both sides, of course.

These muscles are called the lateral pterygoids. They attach at one end to the articular disc that glides between the two bones of the jaw joint, the mandible and the temporalis, when you move your jaw.

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At the other end they attach to the lateral plates of the pterygoid processes of the sphenoid bone.

Now, the sphenoid bone is one of the most fascinating bones in the body. It spans the inside of your head behind your eyes and in front of your ears, with its greater wings lying under your temples. The sphenoid articulates with 11 other cranial bones. It is shaped sort of like a moth, with the moth’s legs coming down to the very back of your mouth, behind your back molars, where your lateral pterygoids attach to the sphenoid’s pterygoid plates. Maybe you see where I’m going.

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At the lower parts of the sphenoid bone you have these tight jaw muscles, the lateral pterygoids, tugging the bone down — and often one side is tighter than the other. (The view above is from the top down and doesn’t show the pterygoid plates.)

At the upper part of the sphenoid bone, there is a magnificent little structure called the sella turcica, or Turkish saddle (aka the hypophyseal fossa). And guess what’s riding in the saddle? The pituitary gland!

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The pituitary is about the size of a pea, and it is the master gland of the entire human body. It produces hormones and also directs other glands to produce hormones, including sex hormones, growth hormones, stress hormones, and thyroid hormones that regulate metabolism.

Here’s the connection: When the TMJs are tight or imbalanced, it can interfere with the pituitary’s orchestration of the endocrine system, resulting in stress, libido, fertility, metabolic, and/or emotional issues.

I offer a TMJ treatment that works inside the mouth to help the lateral pterygoids become more relaxed and balanced.


Treating TMJ issues: the jaw-pelvis connection

The jaw-pelvis connection is real! When I ask my TMD (temporomandibular disorder) clients if they also have pelvic alignment issues, most of them say yes. If your pelvis is out of alignment, most often so is your jaw, and vice versa.

When receiving bodywork to get one area realigned, the other often follows. Sometimes I have one hand in your mouth and the other on your pelvis.

Here’s how that relationship works: The pelvis includes the root of the spine, your sacrum. Your jaw — mandible — is near the upper end of your spine, and it has a special relationship with C1 and C2, the uppermost vertebrae of your spine.

Because the opening/closing motion of the jaw is both hinging and gliding, the axis of rotation is not in the TMJs but is between these two vertebrae (Guzay’s theorem). When your jaw is misaligned, it affects these vertebrae, impacting spinal and head posture and neurological well-being.

How does that happen? The dura mater is a tough, inelastic membrane that lines the inside of your cranium and forms a loose sheath surrounding the spinal cord that is attached to C1, C2, and C3 and then descends all the way down to the sacrum.

When the jaw is not aligned, it torques the dura mater at the upper end of the spine, which translates all the way down to the sacrum. This torquing can cause scoliosis, lordosis, kyphosis, pelvic rotation, head tilt, and cranial bone misalignment, which can affect your endocrine system and spinal nerves.

Conversely, a pelvic injury can affect the jaw. If your pelvis is giving you problems, put your fingers in front of your ears and open and close your jaw. Notice if your left and right TMJs feel different or the same. You may notice one side opens first or is more restricted or otherwise moves asymmetrically. You may not have pain, however.

Maybe this is why nine times more women than men suffer from TMJ disorders. Women tend to have more issues with their pelvic floors as well as hormonal imbalances. Who knows which came first?

Coming soon: more about the relationship between the jaw and the endocrine system.

Treating TMJ issues: who experiences it?

Did you know that about 12 percent of Americans are experiencing TMJ disorders at any one time? Also, women are 9 times more likely than men to experience severe pain and restricted jaw movement?

Some known causes are autoimmune diseases, injuries, infections, dental procedures/prolonged mouth opening, pre-surgery breathing tube insertion, and arthritis. (How about stress?)

The majority of women who have TMJ disorders are in their childbearing years — which indicates that hormones may play a role.

Genetic and environmental factors can increase the risk. A particular gene variant more prevalent among TMD sufferers increases sensitivity to pain. Gum chewing and sustained postures may also play a role. (Data from