Don’t put up with stiffness, soreness or clicking of the jaw. Your dentist and physio can develop a treatment plan.
The joint of the jaw is called the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Problems in the jaw are referred to as temporomandibular disorder (TMD). These problems typically include pain in the side of the face and jaw
- pain in the side of the face, grinding of the teeth,
- grinding of the teeth, particularly at night,
- stiffness of the jaw muscles
- locking, clicking and clunking of the jaw
- may occur with neck pain and headaches
If you are experiencing pain or discomfort, it’s important to seek professional help. As TMD affects both the jaw and the teeth, you should see both a physiotherapist and a dentist to develop a treatment plan. If left unmanaged, TMD pain may settle but then worsen over subsequent months.
How does TMD start?
Problems in the TMJ often start with an exacerbating moment, such as a sporting injury, car accident, chewing very hard food or intensive dental work. Despite the injury possibly being historic, ongoing niggles can occur if you don’t seek treatment. Discomfort may appear long after the original injury or strain.
Clicking of the jaw is due to parts of the TMJ moving out of place. This needs early treatment before long-term damage occurs. The TMJ can become arthritic just like your hips, knees or fingers. As the neck and jaw muscles link with each other neck pain may refer to the jaw. Alternatively jaw clenching may contribute to neck pain and headache.
Diagnosis of TMD
TMJ problems are complex and difficult to treat, so visit your GP, physiotherapist or a specialist who has specific training in this area. Effective treatment is based on an accurate diagnosis.This involves taking a full history, measuring the TMJ movements, and assessing stiffness and muscle spasms.
Your neck, back and posture
A full assessment of the neck and back is important too. As a physiotherapist I look at your posture, range of neck and jaw movement, to identify stiffness, muscle spasm, flexibility and strength deficits.
Treatment is very specific to each area and involves stretches, mobilisations, posture correction, releasing tight muscles, advice on avoiding aggravating factors, and motor control relearning to reduce stress on your jaw.
We usually follow treatment with a home program of advice, self-management strategies and exercise.
What to avoid
- Minimise or avoid hard foods and chewing gum,
- Cut apples into pieces rather than taking a large bite
- Avoid crusty bread and steak
- Use ice or heat if pain is significant
- Practise relaxation techniques
Resting Jaw PositionWhen you relax your jaw, your lips will be lightly closed, your teeth slightly apart and your tongue resting on the roof of your mouth. Learning this takes frequent practice.
Medication Muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory medication can reduce pain and are good for short-term use, particularly if the pain is severe. However, managing the underlying cause is vital. Therefore, treatment should be in combination with non-medication therapy.
If your teeth are being worn down from clenching or grinding, you may need an occlusal splint. This is a custom-fit layer of plastic to wear between your teeth. This is useful to protect your teeth while you try to break the habit of clenching or grinding. If your teeth have already sustained substantial damage, your dentist will discuss ways to repair the teeth and prevent further damage.
Poor sleep patterns and quality may aggravate TMD so these need treatment.