Physio: Jaw joint dysfunction can be very painful

When this joint is not functioning properly, eating, speaking, swallowing, yawning even sleeping can be very painful.

Has jaw pain got you avoiding gum, hard foods and social situations? The root of the pain, excuse the cheesy dental joke, may be related to a TMJ—temporalmandibular joint—dysfunction.

The TMJ is the joint that moves when your jaw bone opens and closes. When this joint is not functioning properly, activities that involve moving your mouth can be painful, including eating, speaking, swallowing, yawning and even sleeping. Sometimes neck pain, headaches and earaches can also accompany this condition.

TMJ dysfunction can result from a repetitive injury, too much or too little movement of the joint, displacement or dislocation of the disc inside the joint, and muscular imbalances. Repetitive grinding or clenching of the teeth can affect the joint surfaces and cause overuse and spasm of the muscles surrounding the TMJ. An improperly moving disc can create pain and lead to a clicking noise when you open and close your mouth. And as we often see with other musculoskeletal conditions, TMJ pain can also be related to poor posture. A change in the position of the neck, with poor posture, can increase the tension in the deep neck muscles. This in turn can change the resting position of the jaw, tongue and TMJ, leading to increase tone in the muscles of the jaw and face. These muscles include the masseter, which sits on outer part of your cheek, the temporalis which sits overtop of your temples, and the pterygoid muscles, which sit right next to the TMJ, just in front of your ear lobe.

If you are experiencing TMJ related pain, avoid chewing gum, eating hard or large foods, nail biting and clenching or grinding your teeth. You can avoid clenching and grinding of your teeth by keeping your mouth as relaxed as possible during the day and night. Rest your tongue on the front of the roof of your mouth with your lips closed and your teeth slightly apart. This is the resting position of the TMJ. It is in this position where there is the least amount of stress on the joint and muscles. While sitting up straight, with your shoulders and mouth relaxed, take slow deep breathes in and out of your nose, trying to relax your mind and muscles.

If you are still experiencing pain, you can visit your local Physiotherapist. She or he can help to calm the muscles using soft tissue techniques, manual therapy and acupuncture to restore normal pain free movement of your TMJ.

Pain in the jaw can also be caused by other medical and dental problems. Therefore, a consultation with your dentist or doctor is recommended, especially if your jaw is locking or you cannot fully open your mouth.

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