TMD (temporomandibular dysfunction) is a painful condition that affects a staggering 33% of the population, causing symptoms such as pain, popping, neuralgia, tinnitus, headaches, etc. Since humans aren’t meant to have TMD in their natural state, and mewing reverts our jaws to our most natural state, it seems obvious that mewing can have an impact on TMD.
Having proper oral posture helps move the TMJ back into its correct resting position. While mewing aggravates some people’s TMJ problems, most users report the opposite, that their TMJ issues improve.
Root Cause of TMJ Issues
TMJ (temporomandibular joint) pain arises from the habitual retraction of the mandible. This obstructs the joint socket and leads to pain. But why do people do this? The main cause is mouth breathing and improper oral posture, which forces your teeth to occlude more posteriorly than they normally would. This then encourages you to keep your mandible slightly retracted and for your teeth to be apart at rest.
Having the teeth apart at rest and/or your jaw back causes your jaw joint to move forward. The problem is that the body adapts to this position and reforms around this new position. It’s the same thing that would happen if you lived in a house where the ceiling isn’t high enough for you. Walking around with a hunch your whole life would cause your vertebrae to deform, but you would acclimate to it. You would become more comfortable being hunched over than you would be standing straight. The same thing happens to your TMJ.
Improper oral posture leads to there not being enough room for the tongue. If you keep your tongue between your teeth instead of the roof of your mouth, your jaw will similarly deform to become smaller. Ancient humans and tribal peoples did not have this issue. They had wide spacious jaws with plenty of room for their tongue. They did not have TMJ, along with the other 5000 species of mammals.
This is the root cause of TMJ. Keeping your teeth apart due to improper posture or lack of tongue space forces your TMJ joint to remodel in the wrong position over time. Current therapies do not address the root cause. As a result, most therapies give about a 50% success rate after several years. For many people this is insufficient.
As a result, mewing is one of the only treatment options that could give you a permanent cure.
See this video for a more visual explanation of TMJ physiology:
Forward Head Posture & TMD
Forward head posture worsens TMD even more. The mandible attaches to the sternum via the hyoid muscles.
When you keep your head forward you tighten these muscles and end up pulling back on your mandible even more. This is especially a problem with mouth-breathers and people who don’t keep their teeth together because the jaw does not resist the backward pull so easily. As long as you just keep your teeth shut, you should not develop TMD in the future.
However, if you have TMD now, not working on your forward head posture means that your recovery will be that much slower. Make sure you practice McKenzie chin tucks constantly:
Try this simple test:
- Stand up straight, head & shoulder back.
- Close your teeth, making sure your molars touch.
- Try to move your mandible backward.
If your mandible didn’t move (or barely moved) then you’re jamming your TMJ into the condyle. You should be practicing proper posture. For a full guide on mewing and proper posture, see our article.
Remember also that your TMJ joint should move forwards when the mouth opens. If it moves backward, then you have TMJ problems.
Why Current Treatments are Ineffective
Current treatments do not fix the root of the problem. Most of them only treat symptoms and only make the problem worse as time goes on.
There is some evidence that the following can be effective in alleviating TMD pain: occlusal appliances, acupuncture, behavioural therapy, jaw exercises, postural training, and some pharmacological treatments. Evidence for the effect of electrophysical modalities and surgery is insufficient, and occlusal adjustment seems to have no effect. (List et al, 2010)
The long term success rate of most TMJ treatments today is around 50%. After that, the TMJ problem returns.
A splint will get rid of the space between the teeth. This makes the biting position match the resting position. But in the long term, the splint disturbs the resting position of the jaw. The tongue is resting between the splint and the teeth, which makes posture even worse over time. Increases in the splint thickness become necessary to compensate for this change.
This is essentially working backward. You’re making the problem worse and treating symptoms instead of the root cause.
Moving teeth around to match the resting and biting positions have some success, especially with preventing symptoms from getting worse. The problem is that no extra room for the tongue has been created. The core issue that created the TMD still exists and symptoms will persist and/or come back.
Surgery has a higher success rate.
For the success rate of TMJ surgery, the responding 33 plus data of one re-operated patient were assessed. Of these, 27 were rated as excellent, four as good, and three (including two re-operated patients) as poor. The success rate was 83.8% when three patients who did not respond were included in the data (Murakami et al. 2000).
But this could be because the surgeon has to cut nerves in that area and you are therefore able to feel less pain after the surgery.
Dr. Mew’s Recommendations
Dr. Mew suggests that the cause for TMD is improper posture.
“From a postural perspective, a whole different approach seems logical and almost too simple. When they bite together, the joint is not centric, so is not balanced; it’s over-closed, with the head of the jaw joint set in the top back of the joint often squeezing the disk out of the way, possibly causing great damage.” – Dr. Mike Mew
But posture is very difficult to change. Dr. Mew uses a device that forces you to keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth and your teeth touching. This will force you to have proper posture even at night.
However, if you’d like to take a crack at fixing your TMJ issues yourself, practice McKenzie chin tucks and proper tongue posture. Proper posture will stabilize your TMJ joint into its proper position. The TMJ disk will heal naturally provided that there’s no continuing irritation to the joint. However, if the disk has been completely torn, this requires surgery.