Do you experience jaw pain? Or do you clinch and grind your teeth? If so, then you’re not alone. It’s estimated that over 20% of the general population at one time or another have symptoms relating to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).
Your jaw or the TMJ is the most frequently used joint in the body. It’s also one of the most complex joints. Much like the knee joint, a small disc of cartilage cushions and separates the TMJ so the jaw may move easily. Each time you talk, chew or swallow you move the TMJ.
The jaw has three functional motions: opening / closing, side-to-side and protrusion / retraction. When the mouth is opened, the TMJ first rotates around a horizontal axis. And as you open your mouth wider, the motion is then combined with gliding of the jaw forward and downward. When you close your mouth the motion is reversed.
A common jaw problem is TMJ dysfunction syndrome. TMJ dysfunction syndrome typically occurs in women between the ages of 20 and 40 years. Early signs and symptoms include jaw clicking, tenderness to the muscles in front of the ear and back of the teeth and dull aching pain in the joint. These symptoms are often followed by spasms of the jaw muscles characterized by pain on movement of the jaw during chew and talking. Gradually, the pain becomes worse and is accompanied by decrease mobility.
Chronic and untreated TMJ dysfunction syndrome can displace the cartilage that causes pressure and stretching of the associated soft tissues and sensory nerves. The displaced cartilage can get trap in certain position when you open your mouth causing your jaw to lock up.
When you clinch and grind your teeth, you increase the wear of the cartilage lining of the joint. You’ll also increase the stress and strain of the associated jaw muscles including the pterygoid, masseter, temporalis and digastric muscles. These muscles are often tight, sore and pain sensitive to touch.
Typical symptoms of TMJ dysfunction syndrome include ear pain, sore jaw muscles, temple headache, jaw pop or clicking, difficulty opening mouth and neck aches. However, people who clinch their teeth a lot may also experience dizziness, disequilibrium and feeling of pressure or fullness in their ears and hear crackling sounds.
Regular clinching of the jaw may also affect the tensor tympani and tensor veli palatini muscles. The tensor tympani muscle controls the movement of the ear drum. When it spasms you’ll hear rumbling and crackling sounds. You’ll often feel that your ear drum is trembling and vibrating like when you’re jumping on a trampoline. The tensor veli palatini muscle controls the diameter of the auditory tube. And when it spasms, you’ll often feel pressure or fullness in your ears.
There are a few things you can do to relief TMJ pain. Avoid chewing gums and eat softer food until the pain subsides. Wearing a mouth guard when you sleep may reduce the stress and strain associated with teeth clinching and grinding. And stretching your mouth may relief your TMJ pain.
Sit in a relax and comfortable position. Now place your tongue in contact with the hard palate as far back as possible while keeping your jaw in a retracted position. Maintaining your tongue and jaw in this position, slowly and rhythmically open your mouth in a limited range ten times. When you finished with this warm up exercise, open your mouth as wide as possible within the pain-free limit and hold this open mouth position for about five seconds. Now relax and close your mouth for five seconds. Repeat this exercise two to three times a day.
If you continue to experience TMJ pain and associated problems despite D-I-Y remedies, consider consulting with a chiropractor specializes with TMJ disorders.