Physical therapy is effective in treating the musculoskeletal component of temporomandibular dysfunction. There are many causes of jaw dysfunction and pain. Here are some ways to lessen the pain in your jaw:
1. Excessive Use of Your Jaw
This habit can be hard to change if you are used to keeping your jaw busy during the day. Many people chew gum, bite their nails, chew on ice, bite pen caps, or even chew up straws. Over time this results in overuse of the muscles involved with chewing and irritates the soft tissues and joints connected to the jaw.
2. Use of Your Over-The-Counter Night Guard
With the over-the-counter options, a custom night guard or other dental appliance made by your dentist may become necessary if you see worsening clenching or jaw pain. If the contact of your teeth is off (common in over-the-counter guard), it can cue your jaw to activate and press down reflexively on the guard at night. It is essential to understand this so that you can start treating the “why” of your clenching or grinding at night. Your dentist, physician, and physical therapist can work together to create a treatment plan that best suits your specific needs.
3.Resting Your Head in Your Hand
Sorry, daydreamers… constantly placing pressure through your jaw causes compression forces through the TMJ and results in pain over time. A much better option is to sit up tall with your head aligned with your neck so your muscles can relax. Focus on getting enough sleep so that you do not feel the need to prop up your head with your hand. You should also exercise to improve muscular endurance and strength to help maintain proper posture.
4. Habitual Motion When Chewing
Many of us have a particular way we chew our food. You may not even realize you are doing this. So the next time you eat, see if you chew a certain way. Do you go straight up and down? Do you always deviate to one side when opening and then to the other when closing? Do you always chew your food on one side of your mouth? Having only one movement pattern can cause hypertrophy of some muscles and atrophy of others, thus perpetuating muscular imbalance in the jaw
5. Wearing a Face Mask for Prolonged Periods
Who knew wearing a mask all day was going to be this difficult? Individuals who wear the mask all day may have noticed an increase in jaw symptoms or headaches by the end of the day or week. Even when the mask is not tightly fitted, it can be a strain on the muscles that open and close your jaw. When talking over the course of the day, these muscles become tired and overworked, fighting against the bottom of the mask instead of falling with gravity. I’ve noticed that to avoid pushing my mask off my nose; I will clench my teeth without realizing it. Now I am not only clenching at night but during the day as well.
6. High Levels of Stress
Ever been on WebMD? Just kidding, we have all secretly done this. Ever notice that stress seems to always show up as a potential cause of our symptoms? High stress levels can cause you to clench your jaw during the day and at night. It can also lead to tension in your neck, resulting in headaches.
7. Excessive Jaw Opening
Opening your mouth too wide can also cause strain on the jaw. Think of that double cheeseburger with bacon, lettuce, and tomato. You can open your mouth that wide but it should be limited to yawning, not daily eating.