Treating TMJ issues: asymmetries in the rest of the body affect the jaw joints

Jaw pain is rarely entirely in the jaw!

If you were building a tower, and one of the floors wasn’t level, it would affect the floors above it — unless you somehow compensated.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is kind of like that, only it’s because it settled unevenly on the ground beneath it. As they built it over the years, it would sink, stabilize, sink more…

The structure of the body is like that too — even when standing on level solid ground.

Because the jaw is near the top of the skeleton, imbalances below can affect the alignment and functionality of the temporomandibular joints (TMJs).

The primary cause of most jaw pain is asymmetrical hypertonicity. Thanks, TMJ Mastery teacher John Corry! That means that some of the muscles that affect the jaw are tighter than others.

I ask about structural anomalies in my TMJ consultations. I’m interested in whether one foot is flatter than the other, whether there’s a leg length discrepancy or a pelvic tilt or any curvature of the spine.

When they are lying on my massage table, I can check for a leg length discrepancy with their legs flat. I can also tune into their cranial rhythm and notice whether there’s asymmetry in the flexion and extension motions at the feet, which indicates asymmetry in the pelvis.

I also feel the space beneath the ears between the bones to see if it’s symmetrical.

When the skull and spine are out of alignment, it can contribute to multiple dysfunctions, with TMJ issues being one of them. (Ask me — I experienced intermittent right jaw clicking and my face drifting slightly to the left in meditation until my chiropractor realigned my AO joint, which also resolved issues that were all on my left side.)

1 shows the line between the mastoid processes. 2 shows the C1 vertebrae. From the sides, feel the convex bony area beneath your ears and come down up to 1/2″ to feel the ends of the C1 vertebrae. Notice if the space is symmetrical.



For more on this, including exercises you can do starting at 5:25, watch this video.

The last part of my evaluation for symmetry is to place the pads of my fingers (or have the client place their fingerpads) over the TMJs right in front of the ears and ask them to open and close repeatedly.

Often one side moves first.

Often one side feels closer to the ear than the other.

Sometimes one side sticks out more than the other.

Try it on yourself. What do you notice?

None of this is super precise. I’m just getting a basic read on asymmetries in the structure of the patient that may affect the jaw.

Have you noticed that you have a dominant side? A side that feels stronger than the other? Most of your issues occurring on one side only?

Have you ever had a foot, ankle, leg, or hip injury? Can you still tell a difference between the injured side and the uninjured one? Can you balance easily on each foot?

How’s your posture? How about your sleep posture?

Also, do you primarily chew on one side of your mouth?

Becoming more symmetrical can be a good long-term project that can pay off with more ease of movement, less discomfort, better balance, injury prevention.

Symmetry is an ideal, like perfection. Most of us are doing the best we can. There’s always going to be some asymmetry in the body (our abdominal organs are asymmetric), but we can definitely address our most dysfunctional areas.

The functional movement screen is a set of 7 movements you do with a trainer, who scores you and can prescribe workouts that strengthen your weaknesses. FMS was developed to identify athletes who were prone to injury before they got injured. It can work for ordinary people too.

Here’s a link to view the screening movements. You can find a trainer near you online.

Practices of non-linear movement can help if done regularly over a long period. These movements work both sides of the body. They increase flexibility and balance and fluidity. And they are fun! Examples:

  • yoga, especially alignment-oriented types like Iyengar and Anusara
  • qi gong
  • tai chi
  • Gyrokinesis
  • martial arts
  • dance

The type of bodywork that directly addresses asymmetries is called structural bodywork. There are two main schools of training: Rolfing Structural Integration and Anatomy Trains Structural Integration. Neuromuscular therapy also assesses posture and gait pattern and can address imbalances.


I invite you to work with me!

MaryAnn Reynolds, MS, LMT, BCTMB
Austin, Texas
Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy • TMJ Relief
online scheduler: maryannreynolds.as.me
text or voicemail: 512-507-4184

Treating TMJ issues: restless legs and sleep bruxism

A new clue about bruxism.

A neurology practice noted that of its patients who had restless legs syndrome (RLS), 60% also had bruxism (grinding teeth during sleep). Eighty-three percent had RLS and migraines, and 52% had RLS, migraines, and bruxism.

Do you relate?

The lead neurologist for this study speculated there is a gene that links these conditions.

It gets more interesting. Both restless legs syndrome and bruxism are involuntary movements occurring during sleep. Is bruxism “restless jaw syndrome?”

I’m always happy to see more research about TMJ-related issues, especially because there are so many factors that play a role in jaw dysfunction and pain.

This may be something to show your doctor, or you may be interested in taking a supplement or adding foods to your diet that help your body produce more dopamine (more info below).

More about bruxism.

Bruxism includes clenching and grinding the teeth. Some distinguish these as “waking bruxism” and “sleep bruxism”.

They may have different causes, in my opinion.

Sleep bruxism, in contrast to daytime clenching, is hard to treat because it occurs when you’re unaware of your behavior and unable to change it.

Waking bruxism is a habit that can change with awareness and practice. I’ve helped many clenchers learn how to relax their mouth position.

Some things I’ve noted about bruxism in my manual therapy practice:

  • Many people don’t know they grind during sleep until a dentist tells them they have damaged teeth.
  • Sometimes the noise of grinding during sleep is loud enough to wake up family members, and that’s how people learn they have sleep bruxism.
  • People who grind at night often wake up with jaw, face, or neck pain, earaches, and/or headaches.
  • Bruxism often results in the need for expensive dental work: mouthguards or splints to prevent further damage and crowns to fortify cracked or broken teeth.
  • Over time, bruxism can damage the temporomandibular joints, possibly requiring surgery.

Dentists and jaw issues.

Many people expect dentists to be experts on jaw issues, yet their domain is treating the teeth and gums.

Learning about TMJ disorders is not required in dental school.

General practice dentists can prevent further tooth damage with appliances like mouthguards and splints. They can repair existing tooth damage or replace teeth with implants.

Some dentists may try to adjust the positioning of the TMJs, and a few dentists also address airway issues (like sleep apnea, which may accompany sleep bruxism) in their work.

Dentists do not address stress or tension in the jaw muscles, which contribute so much to jaw pain. Any overworked muscle will hurt, tighten, and perhaps spasm. The jaw muscles are no different.

Some dentists and hygienists in the Austin area refer people with jaw pain or issues opening wide to me for TMJ relief bodywork, including intraoral work on internal jaw muscles.

Solutions to try.

If you grind your teeth during sleep, it is possible to stop by using hypnotherapy and EFT.

I often recommend a recorded hypnotherapy session for bruxism that’s available on YouTube to listen to before sleep.

I don’t know if it works for everyone, but it’s soothing — I always fall asleep before it ends. Less stress is always desirable.

I’ve also heard that starting a regular meditation practice can over time reduce or stop bruxism completely. There are many types of meditation. If you don’t have a good teacher, I recommend Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction taught online by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

As mentioned above, dopamine agonists are prescribed for low dopamine levels.

Dopamine is released when your brain is expecting a reward — when you anticipate a pleasurable activity such as eating a delicious meal, spending time with someone you love, or receiving a big check.

It’s sometimes called “the happy hormone” because it affects your enthusiasm, motivation, and focus.

If you suffer from bruxism, before going the pharmaceutical route with dopamine agonist drugs, you may want to consider nutrition — consuming foods or taking supplements that raise your dopamine levels.

In particular the amino acid tyrosine increases dopamine.

I found a few links that may be helpful:


I invite you to work with me!

MaryAnn Reynolds, MS, LMT, BCTMB
Austin, Texas
Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy • TMJ Relief
online scheduler: maryannreynolds.as.me
text or voicemail: 512-507-4184

Educating dental office staff about treating jaw issues

Last year, I took a some classes about making presentations, and I focused on educating dental office staff about what I do in my TMJ Relief work.

Last week, I participated in a lunch-and-learn at the office of my wonderful dentist, Dr. Elizabeth Rayne. I talked about what I do and got to ask them some questions about what they do.

For instance, when people grind their teeth during sleep, they may not be aware of it. However, the dental office staff sees the results of grinding.

The staff then has to tell the patient that their sleep habit is damaging their teeth. Not good news to hear, especially when it means they need crowns.

Since my specialty as a massage therapist is in relieving muscle tension, after taking some advanced courses, I can help relieve tension in the jaw muscles and the pain it causes.

As someone who’s also trained in behavioral change (NLP), I can help people learn habit change.

Learning the techniques I use, getting advanced training, tweaking my protocol, and working on person after person since 2013 make up the manual therapy part of my work.

I’ve worked on people who have suffered for most of their lives, for twenty, thirty, even forty years.

That’s a lot of suffering. Being able to make a difference is hugely rewarding.

My work mission has broadened to include educating professionals and the public about manual therapy for jaw issues. At least half of my TMJ patients had never received manual therapy for jaw pain before they learned about me, through word of mouth. They didn’t know it existed.

I can relieve jaw pain, help people open wider, and help get their jaws aligned for better appliance fit. How would that affect a dental practice?

Readers, I f you know of any dental offices in the Austin area interested having me do a lunch-and-learn with staff, please connect. I will follow up.

Treating TMJ Issues: some medications cause jaw clenching

I’ve learned that some widely used pharmaceutical medications can cause jaw clenching and grinding as side effects.

The best known are in a class called SSRIs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, commonly prescribed for depression and/or anxiety.

I’m sure you’ve heard of Prozac (generic name fluoxetine). Here are some other SSRIs that can cause bruxism:

  • Zoloft (sertraline)
  • Celexa (citalopram)
  • Lexapro (escitalopram)
  • Paxil and Pexeva (paroxetine and paroxetine CR)
  • Viibryd (vilazodone)
  • Luvox (fluvoxamine and fluvoxamine CR)

Do not stop taking them without a doctor’s supervision, as you may have withdrawal symptoms, possibly dangerous.

In general, if you take any of these medications and you are clenching or grinding your teeth, talk to your doctor about alternatives: psychotropics, dopamine agonists, antihistaminergics, and psychostimulants, as well as other measures to relieve anxiety and depression.

I recently learned that there’s an alternative to pharmaceuticals for treating depression and other mental disorders. It’s called TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) and it works with your brain waves (rather than the chemical approach using particles).

It’s been approved by the FDA to treat depression and migraines, and it’s also being used to treat anxiety, OCD, PTSD, Asperger syndrome, TBI, ADHD, and more.

TMS is offered at several places in Austin. Do a search to learn more.

One more bit of info: I had a new TMJ Relief patient who was taking an SSRI. I treated her and gave her the info above.

Unlike others I’ve treated, she didn’t notice a difference in how her TMJs felt and moved at the end of her first session.

However, she emailed me the next day to tell me that for the first time in a while, she woke up without severe jaw pain and headache.

So even if you are taking an SSRI and have jaw pain, one of my TMJ Relief sessions (or even better, several sessions judiciously scheduled to prevent relapse) can help, and meanwhile you can be investigating alternatives.


I invite you to work with me!

MaryAnn Reynolds, MS, LMT, BCTMB
Austin, Texas
Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy • TMJ Relief
online scheduler: maryannreynolds.as.me
text or voicemail: 512-507-4184

Coming soon! A class for dental offices

I have been taking a fantastic class called NLP+Presentations. The first part was this past weekend, and the second part will be in mid-February.

I’m working on a presentation for dental offices. It will be an hour max, so it could be a lunch-and-learn or a training offered to staff early or late in the workday.

I probably don’t need to tell you that some people complain of jaw pain after receiving dental work.

Dental professionals need to accommodate them by offering frequent breaks from wide-open mouth position — some even use devices to keep the mouth cranked wide open.

Dental offices also experience cancellations when someone’s jaw pain has flared up and they can’t even imagine holding their mouth open for dental treatment.

In fact, dental professionals are often the first health care professionals to let someone know that their clenching and/or grinding habit is damaging their teeth.

Although they offer orthotic devices to protect teeth and/or try to realign the TMJs, and they can usually repair the tooth damage they encounter, they don’t work on the biggest cause of jaw pain — myofascial tension. In fact, most dentists receive little or no training in the jaw — their domain is teeth and gums.

As a massage therapist, my domain is the myofascial realm of muscles and soft tissues. I work on postural issues, shoulder and neck tension, decompression of cranial bones, and do intra-oral work on all four internal jaw muscles — as gently as possible.

I can help dental offices help their patients, and I believe we can work well together.

If you think your dentist might be interested in this free training, please connect us. I’ll be offering trainings starting in late February.