One of the most common issues that I find whilst treating clients is tightness through the jaw muscles, not all of these tight muscles are sore or painful, but they definitely show up during most treatments on palpation. This tightness can be symptomatic of TMJ or TMJD.

Some studies suggest that over 10 million Americans suffer from this condition and 95% of patients will be women. I have always had a keen interest in this condition due to being a sufferer myself, along with the high prevalence of cases that I see in the clinic. Which is why I’m super excited to introduce the newest member of the team at the clinic, Ana Calleja, with over 10 years experience in oral rehabilitation as a qualified and experienced Dentist, she also has a special interest on posture related neck, head and TMJ pathology.

So what exactly is TMJ, what are the causes, and more importantly what can be done about it, and do you think you might be a sufferer ?

Tempro-Mandibular Joint pain (TMJ) or dysfunction (TMJD) is a term used to describe a disorder of the jaw muscles and nerves caused by injury to the Tempro-Mandibular joint, the joint is located just in front of the ear on either side of the head. The Tempro-Mandibular joints and surrounding ligaments and muscles hold the mandible, or lower jawbone, to the temporal bone of the skull. The TMJs allow motions of the jaw that facilitate eating, speaking, and making facial expressions. The TMJs are two of the most used and complex joints in the body.

Check out these 10 symptoms found in  TMJ sufferers:

  • Pain or tightness in the jaw, especially at the area of the joint
  • Popping/clicking of the jaw
  • Ear pain
  • Ringing or popping sounds in the ears
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Neck and shoulder pain or tightness
  • Locking or dislocation of the jaw (usually after widely yawning)
  • Tingling in the arms or hands
  • Tooth pain

So what can cause TMJ, well it’s different for everyone, but here are 10 triggers to look out for:

  • Poor posture – this can put a lot of strain on the muscles of the neck and head and is almost always presents in a person with the classic forward head posture so prevalent in today’s society. In fact, I would guess that around 75% of clients that come through the clinic show some signs of this postural pattern, and each and every one will have tight jaw muscles.
  • Clenching and grinding – or Bruxism as its most commonly known is one of the most common causes of TMJ disorders. The added stress on the jaw joint can cause wear and tear of the cartilage disks, and may cause the jaw joint to become dislocated. In addition, bruxism leads to tooth wear and malocclusion, which can cause more clenching and grinding, due to overworked muscles in the jaw.
  • Cartilage wear and tear – the cartilage discs that pad the TMJs become worn or displaced, allowing the bones of the joint to grind against one another.
  • Dislocation – Dislocation of the joint is indicated by popping and cracking noises when the jaw is opened or closed, and may negatively affect movement of the jaw and strain the musculature of the jaw, face, and neck.
  • Emotional issues including stress and anxiety. In the 6 months before the onset, a study found that 50–70% of people with TMD reported experiencing stressful life events (e.g. involving work, money, health or relationship loss). It is thought that such events can induce anxiety which in turn causes increased jaw muscle activity.
  • Scary Movies – hyperactivity has also been shown in people with TMD whilst taking examinations or watching horror films – I’m a huge fan of horror, which might go some way to explain my TMJ!
  • Misaligned bite/malocclusion – If the bite of the upper and lower teeth is not aligned properly, everyday jaw motions can cause stress to muscles, tendons, and nerves surrounding the jaw joints.
  • Arthritis – Arthritis can cause uncomfortable inflammation of the TMJ and may also result in swelling in the adjoining tissues, ligaments and muscles. Arthritis patients may experience difficulty opening and closing the mouth, as well as other painful TMJ symptoms.
  • Injury
  • Heredity

So if you recognise any of these symptoms or triggers, what can you do about it? Often symptoms can be prevented using self-care at home, such as:

  • Eating soft foods.
  • Avoiding chewing gum.
  • Maintaining proper posture.
  • Practicing stress reduction and relaxation techniques, such as meditation and breathing exercises.
  • Using dental splint appliances as recommended by your dentist.
  • Taking Magnesium supplements has been shown to help with overactive muscles.
  • Postural correction exercises – this is especially important with those with forward head posture. Until this is corrected, the pain and tightness will always return.   A good physio or Pilates instructor is highly recommended.
  • And of course Massage.  This is a great way of bringing blood and oxygen back to the tight muscles all the way around the face, head and neck, treating trigger points and normalising the tissue, along with the added benefit of relaxation and stress reduction. You’ve got to love massage!

If this is something that you’re concerned about, and you recognise the triggers and symptoms and would like to have some professional advice and treatment, then we would LOVE to help you. Ana is available at the clinic on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Don’t delay, let us get our healing hands on your overworked jaw muscles today :0)