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Why You Might Be Experiencing Jaw Pain

If you regularly suffer from facial pain, noisy clicking when yawning or eating, headaches, tinnitus or neck pain, you could be suffering from TMJ or jaw dysfunction. And, while accidents can be to blame for your jaw pain, TMJ issues are often caused by your lifestyle (we’re looking at you, slouchy). But don’t fret, dental and physiotherapy intervention can get things moving smoothly again!

What is the TMJ?

TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint, which is just a wordy way of saying jaw joint. According to Collins Place Physio’s Peter Bond, “our TMJs allow the jaw to be suspended under the skull. Each joint is the junction of two bones, a hollow in the under-surface of the side skull bone and a rounded prominence at the top of the jaw bone or mandible. Like all joints, these two bones move on each other and have cartilage bonded onto their joint surfaces and are held together and encapsulated by fibrous tissue. In the case of each TMJ, a cartilage disc between these joint surfaces allows a better fit and a range and variety of movement.”

What is TMJ or Jaw dysfunction?

“Dysfunction of the TMJ is the perception that there is some inability to perform in its normal way,” says Peter. “The TMJ works in conjunction with many other body parts, including the TMJ of the opposite side. It is important to recognise this fact, as involvement of a team of health professionals is often required to address the various issues concerning a patient’s jaw dysfunction.”

How to know when something’s wrong with your jaw?

Not all ear aches are due to infection, and discomfort in this region can often be jaw related, due to the TMJ’s positioning. “Each TMJ is located immediately in front of the ear which explains symptoms often mentioned such as a blocked ear, ear ache or pain and noises when moving the jaw which are not heard by others,” says Peter.

“Other symptoms which are often described are headache, tinnitus or ringing in the ears, pain which occurs in the region of the TMJ, altered sensation in the teeth, neck pain and joint noises such as popping, clicking and grating.”

What can cause TMJ dysfunction and jaw pain?

According to Peter, causes of problems of the TMJ and associated structures include:

  • Various arthritic and soft tissue conditions.
  • The long-term performance of various bad TMJ habits, which might include such things as clenching and grinding of teeth, nail biting, chewing gum, forced opening occurring, for example when yawning.
  • Poor/abnormal posture – this is often unknown to the patient, thus education is important.
  • Poor coping mechanisms when stressed as this can cause tensing or tightening of facial and jaw muscles.
  • Trauma such a direct blow or indirect such as whiplash in a motor vehicle accident.
  • Poor occlusion, such as absent or poorly positioned teeth.
  • Having the jaw open for prolonged periods of time, such as during lengthy dental procedures.

Physiotherapy Management of TMJ Dysfunction

A physiotherapist who has undergone extra study in TMJ dysfunction, such as Peter Bond, can give advice on usage of the jaw, and improve joint movement and muscle function via techniques such as mobilisation, muscle massage, gentle stretching if found to be shortened, strengthening if found to be weak, the application of heat and or ice, dry needling, and attending to a patient’s posture. “It is important to realise that with these conditions the physiotherapist is part of a team and that the skill of each team member needs to be utilised for maximum patient outcome,” adds Peter.

Make an appointment with Peter and address your jaw pain today!

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