Fitness Facts: Jaw pain
By Connie Colbert
Director, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic
Do you have jaw pain, difficulty chewing or notice a grating sound in the joint in your jaw?
You might have temporomandibular joint dysfunction.
Your temporomandibular joint is a hinge that connects your jaw to the temporal bones of your skull, which are in front of each ear. It lets you move your jaw up and down and side to side, so you can talk, chew and yawn.
Problems with this joint may cause:
- Pain that travels through your face, jaw or neck
- Stiff jaw muscles
- Limited movement or locking of the jaw
- Painful clicking or popping in the jaw
- A change in the way the upper and lower jaw teeth fit together when you bite
- Problems when you try to open your mouth wide
- Jaws that get stuck or locked in the closed or open position
- A tired feeling in your jaw
- Swelling on the side of your face
- Trouble chewing or painful chewing
You also might have headaches, toothaches, dizziness, earaches, trouble hearing or ringing in your ears (called Tinnitus).
If you think you might have this condition, it can be diagnosed by a dentist, who will run a series of tests. Besides doing a physical exam on your facial muscles and jaw, the dentist may order a full set of facial X-rays and possibly an MRI or CT to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.
If you are diagnosed with this disorder, the treatment may include;
- Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or Aleve (Naproxen) to relieve muscle pain and swelling
- Applying ice and heat. Apply an ice pack to the side of your face and temple area for about 10 minutes. Do a few simple jaw stretches. When you are done, hold a warm towel or washcloth to the side of your face for about five minutes. Perform this routine a few times each day.
- Stay away from crunchy, hard foods and eat soft, easily chewed foods such as yogurt, mashed potatoes, cottage cheese, soup, scrambled eggs, fish and cooked vegetables.
- Avoid extreme jaw movements
- Practice good posture to reduce neck and facial pain
- Keep your teeth slightly apart as often as you can
Additional treatments can include:
- A splint or night guard. These plastic mouthpieces fit over your upper and lower teeth, so they don’t touch. They lessen the effects of clenching or grinding and correct your bite by putting your teeth in a more correct position. What’s the difference between them? You wear night guards while you sleep. You use a splint all the time. Your dentist will tell you which type you need.
- Other medications such as muscle relaxants to help relax the muscles in your jaw
- Dental work to fix teeth that may cause your jaw to not close properly
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). This therapy uses low-level electrical currents to provide pain relief by relaxing your jaw joint and facial muscles.
- Pain medication or anesthesia injected into tender facial muscles called “trigger points” to give relief
- Rarely, in severe cases in which these treatments are ineffective, surgery may be required.
This is not an exhaustive list of treatments, but if you feel as if you might have TMD, see your dentist or health care provider for an evaluation.