Jaw Discomfort With TMJ, by Juliette Woodruff R.M.T, Acupuncture Practitioner

Juliette Woodruff is a registered massage therapist practicing in downtown Toronto at The Orthopaedic Therapy Clinic. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the most commonly used joint in the body.  It is estimated that most people open and close their mouth approximately 1,500 to 2,000 times a day for talking, chewing, swallowing, kissing, yawning, snoring, mouth breathing and facial expressions. It’s not surprising that this joint can get strained causing jaw discomfort.

jaw-bone-medical-illustration-45274452

Anatomy Of The Jaw Joint (TMJ)

 The jaw joint connects the lower jawbone called the mandible, to the bone on the side of the head called the temporal bone. These bones are where the joint gets its name – Temporomandibular or TMJ for short. When we open and close  our jaw the round part at the end of the lower jawbone (condyle) glides forward and back in the socket (fossa) located in the temporal bone.  For this gliding motion to be smooth it requires the soft disc that sits between the condyle and the temporal bone. This soft cushion-like structure separates the bones to allow the sliding effect (rotation) needed to be able to talk, chew, kiss, sing, and do a variety of other movements without pain. If you place your fingers just in front of your ears and open and close your jaw, you will feel the joint move. When there is a problem, you will feel the joint protrude out under your fingers or experience a click. TMJ – Temporomandibular joint dysfunction – YouTube

Symptoms Of Jaw Discomfort With TMJ

Jaw discomfort can cause a number of symptoms. When your jaw is a problem you may feel:

  • pain with opening and closing your mouth
  • pain when chewing gum or firm foods i.e. apples
  • clicking, popping sounds
  • limited opening of your mouth
  • locking of the jaw

Some symptoms may mimic other conditions.  TMJ issues can cause a pain in the ears similar to an earache. It can also cause a sensation of pressure, an annoying sensation of ringing in the ears (tinnitis), fuzzy sounds  and/or hearing loss. The TMJ issues can cause pain and tension around the head, neck, face, and shoulders. If muscles are involved, pain can be referred into the head causing headaches. The muscles involved in chewing (mastication) can refer pain in the forehead along eyebrows, the teeth (mimicking dental problems) and pain to the lower portion of the jaw. TMJ

Causes of Jaw Discomfort With TMJ

If the TMJ becomes damaged or misaligned, the soft disc may become compressed and torn from arthritis, trauma, or improper alignment of the jaw. Over time these bony structures, can deteriorate at an accelerating rate. The wear from the grinding on the joint, combined with the loss of the cushioning effect of the soft disc (articular), may cause difficulty in opening and closing of the mouth. The body may respond to this imbalance, by using the musculature of the face, neck, and jaw to try to realign the joint. As these muscles fatigue, additional muscles of the shoulder and back are progressively recruited into compensatory patterns.

Massage Therapy For Jaw Discomfort With TMJ

Many people clench their teeth at night without even realizing it. Once diagnosed, I wonder how many people never get a mouth guard? Perhaps you don’t want to be bothered with the annoyance of a plastic device sitting on your teeth at night and instead choose to avoid your dentist’s prescription. This avoidance may seem better at the time until your dentist finds hairline cracks in your teeth from clenching and grinding.  You may avoid it until you experience constant discomfort in the jaw, face, and other areas as the condition becomes more chronic. In addition to mouth guards, massage can be a useful therapy in the treatment of TMJ. Massage helps to lengthen the jaw muscles (treating trigger points), and reduces pain by treating the tension in the compensatory structures of the neck and shoulder region. Treatment is usually done while you are lying on your back so as to reduce pressure on the jaw area. It is often applied to the structures in and out of the mouth to achieve restorative normal motion of the jaw. The use of deep moist heat to increase blood supply to the fascia, muscles, shoulder and neck area can help loosen the tissue prior to treatment. Treatment may also involve the posture-related structures which influence the jaw position. Head forward posture or rounded shoulders create tension and excess muscle tension in the neck, and shoulders, altering the mechanics of the whole region.

Self – Treatment Strategies For Jaw Discomfort With TMJ

  • Learn how to self-massage your jaw muscles
  • Eat softer foods
  • Avoid repetitive jaw movements such as gum chewing
  • Apply heat to help relax neck and jaw muscles, but use ice when the jaw is inflamed
  • Correct your posture throughout the day (re-position head posture/watch forward head shoulder position or slouching)
  • Release tight musculature by massaging a tennis ball in your shoulders and at the base of the neck
  • Lie on a foam roller to stretch chest muscles and mobilize your mid-back
  • Learn jaw exercises to release tension
  • Avoid sleeping on your stomach to reduce strain on the neck

Other causes of Jaw Discomfort – TMJ

It’s important to get a proper diagnosis.   if symptoms persists as there are other possible causes of jaw discomfort such as:

  • Autoimmune disease
  • Infection
  • Strain from dental procedures
  • Stress

If these self-help strategies don’t work, or if the pain and discomfort in the jaw increases, then you should discuss your symptoms with your dentist, physician, and/or physiotherapist. Disclaimer-This information is not meant to replace medical/health advice. Contact your health professional to ensure the diagnosis and treatment are appropriate for your condition.

  1. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-power-of-the-human-jaw/ 
  2. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/oralhealth/Topics/TMJ/TMJDisorders.htm
  3.  Canadian Dental Association
  4. Physiotherapy management of Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) pain