Tight jaw muscles are a pain-literally. If you don't have a tight jaw you might not imagine how difficult of a problem it is, but once it starts to hurt you realize all the many times per hour you use your jaw: everything from chewing to talking to yawning to even clenching your teeth. All of these things can be painful, and there can seem to be no answer in sight. You can take tylenol and ibuprofen but those only help so much, and you don’t want to live on them constantly. What can be done to help loosen your tight jaw muscles?
First off, it'll help to explain why our jaws get stiff in the first place. By knowing the cause of the tightness, we will know which cures we can use.
TMJ stands for the temporomandibular joint, and TMJD is the disorder that sometimes vexes it. The temporomandibular joint is a joint located between the lower jaw and the temporal bone-in front of and below the ear. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, an estimated 10 million people in the United States experience at least one TMJ disorder.
There can be many reasons for a TMJ disorder, including an injury, teeth grinding, or inflammation from infection. TMJ pain can manifest as tenderness in the jaw, the ear, the face or the neck. It can cause difficulty opening the jaw or chewing, and a loud popping sound can be heard. It can also cause headaches.
When we're stressed or anxious our muscles tense up. Sometimes this tension is in our shoulders and back, sometimes in our neck, and sometimes in our jaws. Stress can cause us to clench our teeth unconsciously, or even grind our teeth. This constant tension can cause pain in the jaws and even give us headaches.
Different types of arthritis can cause pain in the jaw, including both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Although osteoarthritis mainly cause pain in the hands, knees and hips, it can also hurt the jaw. And people who have rheumatoid arthritis are much more likely to have TMJ symptoms than the average person.
Although teeth grinding can be a sign of stress or anxiety, it can also be attributed to several other things, including side effects of some medications as well as nervous system disorders. In some instances, teeth grinding can cause damage to the teeth and even break them.
There are many mouth opening exercises that you can do to help loosen a tight jaw. To start, open and close your mouth several times as a warm up. Then take hold of your bottom teeth gently with one hand, and slowly pull down on your jaw until you begin to feel pain. At that point stop pulling and hold for 30 seconds, and then let your mouth close again.
As with any exercise, you want to start easy, only doing this three or four times, and then, over time, work your way up to ten or twelve repetitions.
This stretch uses your tongue to stretch the jaw forward. Press your tongue against the roof of your mouth, behind your teeth. Then use your tongue to push your top teeth forward and, while doing that, slowly open your mouth. Stop doing this when you feel pain. You can repeat this ten times.
Put on a happy face and smile as widely as you can, and then open your mouth until you feel pain. Hold in place for ten seconds, then stop. Repeat ten times.
Stand with your back against a wall, and then pull your chin toward the wall (creating an overbite and a double chin). Hold for three to five seconds. Repeat ten times.
A mouth guard may be prescribed for you for either teeth grinding or for TMJ. Mouth guards are typically worn at night. There are several brands you can buy or you can get a custom one made if your dentist feels that it’s necessary.
There are also mouth guards specifically for TMJ called splints, which gently hold the mandible in a forward position. Your doctor may recommend you wear this kind of splint 24 hours a day. It will reduce the strain on your jaw muscles.
Your doctor may recommend that you eat a diet of soft foods while your jaw is stiff and tight. This is temporary and just done long enough to give your jaw and joints time to rest and heal. Nutritious foods to eat during this period would be applesauce, smoothies, mashed potatoes, yogurt, etc.
A massage of the masseter muscle can help to loosen the jaw and ease the pain. This type of massage is typically done by experienced chiropractors, physical therapists, massage therapists or osteopathic physicians.
Are you experiencing jaw and TMJ pain?
TMJ & Sleep Therapy Centre of Raleigh-Durham