If you are suffering from jaw pain it is first and foremost a trip to the dentist to rule out any dental issues that is required. However, if you have done this and been diagnosed with Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Dysfunction or a TMJ problem then this article may help.
The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are the two joints that connect the jawbone to the skull. The joint is unique in that it is two joints that functions as one unit. It is a hinge joint with a moveable socket with a small disc. It is divided into upper and lower compartments allowing for both hinge-like and gliding motions. It is composed of fibrocartilage which is good for self-preservation and less susceptible to the effects of aging.
Problems with the temporomandibular joints and the muscles that move the jaw known as the masticatory muscles can occur in 30% of the population which is more common that suspected however only 3-7% seek treatment.
Individuals with TMJ issues will report pain and tenderness in the jaw region, in front of the ear, travelling up into the temple and along the jaw line. The pain will be aggravated with chewing or other jaw activity. Opening the mouth maybe limited and accompanied with a clunking/clicking sounds or in some cases it may even lock. These individuals may also suffer from migraine, headache or neck pain. There can be several causes of TMJ pain including facial trauma, facial surgery, poor posture, sustained postures, excessive teeth clenching or grinding and stress.
What to do if you are suffering from jaw pain?
- See a dentist and make sure that it is definitely the TMJ that is causing the pain and not teeth or gums.
- Your dentist may provide a night guard to wear to reduce teeth clenching and grinding at night.
- See a Chartered Physiotherapist who will be able to assess and treat your symptoms. This may include soft tissue techniques and exercises to strengthen jaw and neck muscles.
- Download the “No Clenching” App onto your phone to monitor and reduce your clenching/grinding during the day.
- Gently massage the muscles around the temple and lower jaw region to relax and release them.
- Practice the Jaw Relaxation Technique.
Jaw Relaxation technique;
- Relax and stop what you are doing (ideally lie down) and allow the tension in your body release especially around the jaw area.
- Close your eyes.
- With the teeth apart say ‘Emma’ – so your jaw and mouth drop open slightly.
- Gently rest your tongue just behind the upper front teeth.
- Pace one hand of your chest and the other on your tummy. Breath slowly and deeply in and out, as you breath in your tummy will rise and as you breath out it will lower. As you breath out think about your cheek muscles relaxing and the tension ‘melting’ away.
- Continue for approximately 5 minutes. A good time to do this is just before sleep at night.
Sleep hygiene is so important for many painful musculoskeletal injuries but in particular managing jaw pain. And we could all be a lot better with trying to get good quality sleep!
Things to avoid that may improve our sleep;
- Caffeine, smoking and alcohol are all stimulants therefore will not
- Exercise before bedtime as it increases alertness
- Blue screens in the bedroom like TV, phone and laptops as they interfere with melatonin which is the hormone that helps you sleep
- Work or study in bed as it increases the alertness
Things that help improve getting to sleep and the quality of sleep;
- A strict routine trying to go to bed and get up at the same time even at weekends
- Prepare for sleep with a relaxing routine before bedtime with calming activities like a soft music or a relaxing bath
- Turn out all the lights and use blackout blinds or curtains to prevent a disturbed sleep pattern
- Create a comfortable room environment as extreme temperatures can disturb sleep and prevent you falling asleep
- Regular exercise during the day
- Keep a pen and paper by the bedside to make a list of things to do the next day – that way you are more likely to relax instead of worrying that you will forget
- If you live in a noisy house try a pair of earplugs
- Review your diet trying the eat main meals earlier in the day with lighter meals in the evening. Avoid drinks that contain citrus, spice or caffeine as they are stimulants instead consider herbal teas which may help calm the mind
- Be patient as for most people it takes 4-5 weeks to implement these changes