TMJ Symptoms Due to Functionally Interconnected Anatomy

Apr 01, 2015, by Dr. Becky Coats
TMJ can be baffling for both sufferers and doctors because of the wide array of symptoms it can cause, from jaw pain and headaches to vertigo and tingling fingers. These symptoms often lead to misdiagnosis of TMJ, unnecessary and ineffective treatments, and continued suffering. But these symptoms are actually logical when we understand how profoundly interconnected is the anatomy of the head, something highlighted by a new abstract model called the Anatomical Network Analysis (AnNA), developed by researchers at the University of Valencia with cooperation from researchers in the US and Canada.

Semi-Independent Modules

Interconnected Nature of TMJAnNA is constructed by looking at the head as a series of elements (nodes) and connections. Nodes in the original model were just bones, but in the more advanced form of the model, nodes can also be muscles or cartilage, though superficial muscles, skin, and related tissues are not included in the model. Connections can be sutures between bones and cartilaginous connections. In the newest version of the model, there are 181 nodes and 412 connections.

Analyzing these nodes and connections, researchers found that the nodes don’t operate separately, but are actually connected into 10 modules.

These modules operate independently of one another to a great degree, and even develop separately from one another.

Both Dependence and Independence Contribute to TMJ

What this abstract model does is highlight how complex the relationships are that govern the activities of the temporomandibular joints. For example, researchers highlight the intimate functional connection between the jawbone and the inner ear. Although the relationships between these two structures aren’t immediately obvious, they become clear when looking at the way that the muscles of mastication (chewing) are connected to the mandible (lower jaw), bones that surround the inner ear, and even the tiny bones of the inner ear themselves. This explains how TMJ contributes to many ear-related symptoms, such as tinnitus, ear pain, and vertigo.

But TMJ also develops in part because of the independent functioning of the modules. Most of the facial modules are separate on each side of the face, i.e. the left side operates independently of the right. But with respect to the mandible, this isn’t strictly possible, because the jawbone attaches to the muscles on the left and on the right. These two teams have to work together more than other teams in the facial structure. This leads to problems when the two teams aren’t completely synchronized. The uneven action of the two groups of muscles can lead to extra strain on one or both sides.

Successful TMJ treatment depends on an understanding of the complex relationships that govern the function of the temporomandibular joint and all its attendant muscles, which is the area of expertise of a neuromuscular dentist.

If you are looking for a neuromuscular dentist in Grapevine to help with your TMJ, please call (817) 481-6888 for an appointment at Grapevine Dental Care.