7 Daily Activities That Worsen Jaw Pain

Updated: Nov 3, 2020

Physical therapy is effective in treating the musculoskeletal component of temporomandibular dysfunction. Read through some of the causes of jaw dysfunction below.

1. Excessive use of your jaw

This 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 mastication and leads to irritation of the soft tissues and joint.


2. Use of your over-the-counter night guard

Having a custom night guard or other dental appliance made by your dentist may become necessary if you are seeing worsening clenching or jaw pain with the over-the-counter options. If the contact of your teeth is off (which is common in over-the-counter appliances,) it can cue your jaw to activate and press down reflexively on the appliance at night. It is important 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 in creating 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 that 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 and exercise to improve muscular endurance and strength to help maintain proper posture.


4. Habitual motion when chewing

Many of us have a certain 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 side 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 that have to wear the mask all day may have started to notice an increase in jaw symptoms or headache 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 fatigued and overworked fighting against the bottom of the mask instead of falling with gravity. I’ve personally 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 levels of stress 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 are able to open your mouth that wide but it should really be limited to yawning, not daily eating.

#ChoosePT #AHConciergePT

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