No other muscle in your body can exert more force than the mussels in your jaw. When all the jaw muscles work together, it can close the teeth with force greater than 200 pounds on the molars. Not only is the jaw the strongest muscle, it can also be the place where we tend to hold the most tension. Tightness in the jaw can result from stress, anxiety, inflammation, or injury. Most people tend to hold tension in our jaw unconsciously. Meaning many of us can go our entire lives without even knowing the amount of pressure we’re clenching our jaw. Below are just a few causes of jaw pain. If you know what is causing your jaw pain it will be much easier to develop a plan to treat it.
Stress or anxiety
Stress may subconsciously contribute to clenching your jaw more frequently than usual. Over time, this can lead to weaker control of the muscles responsible for opening and closing the mouth.
If this problem is ignored, our brain, which controls these muscles, can lose its ability to remember the proper position and movement of the jaw. It’s important to keep your stress down to a minimum, though this can be easier said than done. Find what brings you calm and make space in your day to relax, whether that be through exercise, meditation or what ever brings you peace.
The temporomandibular joints, called TMJ, are the joints and jaw muscles that make it possible to open and close your mouth. Located on each side of the head, your TMJ works together when you chew, speak or swallow and include muscles and ligaments as well as the jawbone. Any problem that prevents this complex system of muscles, ligaments, discs and bones from working properly may result in a painful TMJ disorder. Causes of TMJ disorders include injury to the teeth or jaw, misalignment of the teeth or jaw, teeth grinding or clenching, poor posture, stress, arthritis, and gum chewing. Warning signs of TMJ vary from person to person but include
- Tension headaches and/or migraines
- Popping or clicking sounds when opening and closing the mouth
- Joints that “lock” when opened, or are difficult to close
- Sinus pain
- Arthritis around the TMJ
- Cracked, worn or broken teeth
Tetanus, often called lockjaw, is a bacterial disease that affects the nervous system. It is contracted through cuts or wounds. Tetanus bacteria can get in through deep puncture wounds. The infection causes severe muscle spasms, leading to “locking” of the jaw, making it hard to open the mouth or swallow. Tetanus is a vaccine-preventable disease that is not transmitted from person to person.
Teeth grinding (bruxism) often occur during sleep. Mouth guards are a kind of occlusal splint that may stop you from grinding by cushioning your teeth and stopping them from grinding against each other while you sleep. There is also a dental procedure called reductive coronoplasty that may be used to reshape or level the biting surface of your teeth. For a non-surgical method of treatment try biofeedback. Biofeedback is a technique designed to help people become aware of and eliminate a behavior.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation in the joints. Approximately 50% of people who have RA also experience TMJ symptoms. RA can cause the following symptoms:
- tightness of the jaw
- joint pain, inflammation, and stiffness
- a low-grade fever
- bumps under the skin of the joints, such as the finger knuckles and the elbow
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common chronic condition that primarily affects the joints. OA usually develops in people over the age of 65. Osteoarthritis is also often associated with morning stiffness, jaw tightness, and decreased range of motion of the jaw.
Deal with your pain
There are a number of treatments for jaw pain depending on the cause. Anything from a warm compress, anti-inflammatory, mouth guards, and meditation can help ease the pain on jaw pain. If you have jaw pain and you want to know more about the cause and how to alleviate the pain contact us at Ear Nose & Throat Consultants for more information and ways to treat it.