Want to know something else that is interesting? The jaw is also involved with trying to handle our stress. Sometimes, when we sleep and even when we are awake, we can clench our jaw or grind our teeth. We hold tension here either temporarily or prolonged in response to stress, frustration or simply out of habit. So when I got to have the discussion with the dentist and dental hygienist that I needed to think about getting a night guard to protect my mouth due to signs of clenching I wasn’t surprised. Generally I feel like I manage my daily stress well, but sometimes I wake up in the mornings feeling like I have to move my jaw around to loosen it up. I also catch myself feeling a little more tense when I am rushing to get the kids out the door or things of that nature (I am sure I am not the only one to feel this way sometimes).
When we clench or grind, even without meaning to, there are a few things that can happen. Apart from possible wear on our teeth and gums (can you believe that you can cause gum recession or tooth fracture by clenching and grinding?!), there is also joint irritation and muscular overuse and imbalance that can occur around the jaw, which can lead to local and referred jaw pain. What does that mean? Jaw pain can feel like an ear ache since your joints are located just beside your ears. It can also feel like a tooth ache because pain from the jaw can refer to your teeth. It may also present with a headache or ringing in the ears due to muscular tension or joint pain. Lack of muscular coordination and control can lead to muscular strain and joint irritation. They begin to have trouble with things like opening, chewing, and talking which usually brings them to their dentist or their doctor, and then to me, because they are just not sure about where to go and they are a little afraid of what treatment entails when they are already having pain and difficulty with such important things that they have to do multiple times per day.
So let me talk about assessment and treatment for a moment. When I am looking at someone’s jaw, I want to know their history. I am talking more about clenching and grinding above, but sometimes there are other things that can lead to jaw pain. After discussing more about what brought them in to see me, I look at how the neck moves and how the nervous system is functioning through reflexes and cranial nerve testing. I then get into looking at the jaw. I look at how a person is opening and closing, other movements that their jaw can do, and how irritable their jaw appears to be. With many people I am also able to assess how the joints, ligaments and muscles are functioning by feeling inside of the mouth and “wiggling” the jaw around. How I approach assessment and treatment with people depends on the degree of irritability of their jaw, their goals for treatment, and what they are doing in their lives. Are they a musician? A teacher? A student? Retired? What is their dental and neck history? All of these things are important for me to know to effectively treat someone’s jaw.
So, if you are having some jaw pain, clenching or grinding during the day and/or night and issues with jaw muscle coordination may be playing a role. Paying a visit to myself or Trent can help to set you in the right direction. Feel free to give me a call if you have any questions about what may be going on with your jaw and what physiotherapy can do to help.
~ Kristyn, PT