Ever feel like you have a nagging pain in your jaw when you chew? Does your jaw dislocate or pop when you yawn or open your mouth? You may have a dysfunction in your jaw that leads to disorders known as Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD).
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a sliding hinge joint that connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the temporal bone of the skull (located in front of the ear on both sides of the head). Joints are the intersection of bones, and their job is to allow movement.
Bones are covered with cartilage to keep them from grinding at this point and are separated with a shock-absorbing disc that maintains smooth movements. This joint is flexible and allows up and down as well as side to side movements so that you can chew, talk, yawn, etc. These movements would not be feasible without the help of the muscles attached to the joint as well as the surrounding muscles, such as the masseter (chewing) muscle.
TMJ dysfunctions are thought of as very common and can affect up to 33% of individuals in their lifetime. Women are more prone to having this disorder than men, and it occurs predominately between the ages of 20 and 40. Some causes include erosion or displacement of the disc, arthritis causing damage to the bone and/or cartilage, impact to the joint, as well as stresses like grinding or clenching of your teeth and tightening of jaw muscles.
Even if you do not find yourself experiencing symptoms of TMJ dysfunction, it’s important to check if some of your habits might eventually lead you down that path.
One preventative measure is to make sure you are chewing your food evenly on both sides of your mouth. If you find yourself always pushing your food to one side and not using the other side to chew, then you might be setting yourself up for jaw pain/popping in the future.
Another good thing to check is that your jaw is tracking smoothly and in a straight line. Watch yourself in the mirror as you open and close your jaw. If you find that your jaw doesn’t go straight down, or veers toward the left or the right, then that might also be an indicator of future problems. Of course, if you have any one or a combination of these indicators, you still may never develop TMJ pain, but it is always good to be proactive and keep our body as healthy as possible.
But let’s say you’ve already passed that point and you do have pain or popping in your jaw. What do you do now? There are different ways to treat TMJ disorders. You can start by trying some at-home exercises to see if they might help to alleviate some of the symptoms. You can check out some of these exercises in our video below!
If at-home remedies aren’t working, you may need to seek a health care professional. Dentists often give mouthguards or bite adjustments to those suffering from TMJ dysfunction, but the most effective and long-lasting treatment seems to be physical therapy. But what exactly do the therapists do to treat it?
First, the physical therapist will want to reduce the inflammation in the TMJ area with things such as ice. The area is usually very tender, so until some of the foundation has been set down, the therapist will not be able to treat the jaw. While inflammation is reducing, the therapist will want to use manual techniques as well as neuromuscular re-education to realign the head and neck. This creates a strong foundation for the jaw joint. The disc in the TMJ can be reset, and that’s when stabilization techniques will play a key role in holding that new position for all of the components of the jaw.
Jaw stabilization exercises alleviate the muscle pain that may cause the jaw to stray to one side, causing an improper bite. Strengthening the correct muscles that were imbalanced will create an even pull of the jaw and the disc. If you’re curious about what one of these exercises might look like, you can watch our jaw tracking exercise video below!
And there you have it! If you’re dealing with this kind of pain and other interventions haven’t helped, try to find a physical therapy specialist that help with TMJ and jaw disorders. If you are curious about what treatment for TMD looks like here at Rehab and Revive, you can watch one of our full treatment videos as well as a transformation video here!
Remember, we heal smarter, not harder!
Dr. Justin C. Lin