The jaw joint, also known as the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), does a hell of a job. We owe our ability to chew, yawn, and talk to this joint. Without it, the mandible (lower jaw) and the skull's temporal bone won’t hold together.
But just like the rest of our body parts, the TMJ can feel “unwell” and suffer from pain too. When the TMJ becomes worn out due to excessive chewing, injury, arthritis, or bruxism (teeth grinding or clenching), you may struggle to chew your food or even talk. The regular movements you do with your jaw, mouth, and even the face can become painful or uncomfortable.
Again, the TMJ is your temporomandibular joint. You have two of them, located on each side of your face, precisely in front of the ears. If you have a disorder or dysfunction of the temporomandibular joints, you may deal with these unpleasant symptoms:
Most of the time, the culprit behind TMJ pain is just the bad habits that take a toll on the jaw joint over time. The good news is TMJ pain dies down on its own after some self-care. Give these recommendations a try to ease your painful TMJ:
Even the jaw needs a break too. Rest it up and give it time to heal. While you’re at it, avoid eating hard-to-chew foods such as apples or tough meats, and go on a soft diet. Avoiding chewing gums can also help in reducing pain.
TMJ pain can also develop if the muscles that control the jaw movement swell or tighten up. Doing some gentle massage or stretches can help reduce the inflammation or loosen the tight muscles.
Bruxism often develops due to stress and anxiety. People who have the condition frequently grind their teeth at night while sleeping, resulting in TMJ pain. Doing some healthy stress coping mechanisms can help you avoid the condition, such as exercising, sleeping, and hanging out with your friends. Taking a hot bath before bed can also help you relax and prevent nighttime bruxism.
According to a study, many patients with TMJ disorder present bad postural patterns, such as the forward head posture. Fortunately, a combination of manual therapy, exercise relaxation techniques, and body posture correction can significantly reduce jaw pain and impairment. Avoid looking down at your phone and minimize your screen time to fix forward head posture.
Many people cradle their phone between their ear and shoulder when talking with someone. Unknown to them, the awkward position can strain the neck and jaw, especially when you do it for long hours. Use speakerphone or a headset to stay hands-free when you’re on the phone without hurting your neck and jaw.
Neck pain and jaw pain often go hand in hand, which comes as no surprise since the head sits on top of the spine, and the TMJ links the mandible with the head. If the bone in your neck shifts out of correct alignment, the weight of your head can’t be supported properly, and your jaw will likely follow suit.
If the above tips do not seem enough to alleviate your jaw pain, you can try these other three remedies:
Dentists may recommend TMJ patients to use mouth guards or oral splints. You can wear one over the teeth to protect them from wearing thin that can happen over time due to excessive bruxism. Heat and ice therapy also work if inflammation causes jaw pain. Last but not least is physical therapy, which helps balance the musculature of the jaw.
Anti-inflammatory pills and pain relievers are often the first aids in jaw pain and its symptoms. Muscle relaxants or prescription painkillers come second if over-the-counter medications do little to no help.
When conventional measures to relieve TMJ disorders fail to provide relief, more invasive care options may be considered. This includes arthroscopic surgery to improve the jaw function or steroid injections to stop the inflammation for good.
If your TMJ pain doesn’t subside even one bit, even after doing the remedies mentioned above, it can mean the underlying cause remains unresolved. In most cases, the root cause lies in the neck. A study showed that the neck and the jaw are related in some critical ways:
Since the TMJ is near and connected to the neck, it’s easy to see why they influence each other's functions. No wonder neck pain is almost a constant companion of jaw pain.
Having your neck checked, specifically the atlas in the uppermost spine, may help resolve chronic TMJ pain. An upper cervical chiropractor can do a form of therapy that adjusts the atlas to ensure its correct alignment. The reasoning behind this is that an atlas misalignment results in a cascade of problems, and TMJ pain is one.
Even a tiny atlas misalignment can alter the jaw's resting position and inflame or irritate the nerves that control the TMJ muscles. Therefore, proper atlas alignment can eliminate the pressure on the TMJ and help restore its functions.
The content and materials provided in this web site are for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to supplement or comprise a medical diagnosis or other professional opinion, or to be used in lieu of a consultation with a physician or competent health care professional for medical diagnosis and/or treatment. All content and materials including research papers, case studies and testimonials summarizing patients' responses to care are intended for educational purposes only and do not imply a guarantee of benefit. Individual results may vary, depending upon several factors including age of the patient, severity of the condition, severity of the spinal injury, and duration of time the condition has been present.