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Your Guide to Jaw Pain

Dr. Lisa Goodman, DC, CCSP, CACCP


Jaw pain is incredibly common. More than 85% of people suffer from some degree of jaw pain or dysfunction. Temporomandibular Joint Disorder/Dysfunction (TMJD) is when one or both joints of the jaw are in a state of pain or dysfunction. Symptoms include pain, popping, and limited mobility. TMJD is also a common trigger for headaches. The lower jaw bone, the mandible is the only bone in the body that tries to run in unison on two separate joints. When working improperly, this causes a lot of stress to the surrounding muscles leading to clenching and grinding. There are many possible causes of TMJD including dental work, braces, strains, posture, function and habit, injury or trauma, stress or anxiety, and medical conditions (infections, arthritis, joint problems, etc.). There are three main muscles that can contribute to TMJD which are Temporalis, Masseters, and Pterygoids. A few auxiliary muscles that may also add to dysfunction and originate in the neck are Sternocleidomastoid, Scalenes, Suboccipitals, and Splenius Capitis.


Self-Care

There are a few self-care techniques that can be done to help care for TMJD.

  • The first self-care technique is more about being self-aware of what is being done with the jaw. Pay attention to what is being chewed. Limit items such as chewing gum, hard candies, chips, and anything else that requires a lot of jaw work (bread, gummies, etc.). Over working the jaw with these types of foods create a hard workload for the muscles above and can cause them to become exhausted and very tight or over contracted.

  • Limit biting with the front teeth (ie. biting into pizza or biting your nails) as it will put stress on the TMJ. Should the muscles become over contracted, then stretching the jaw is a great way to help ease the pain and tightness.

  • Opening the mouth as wide as possible allowing those muscles a break from being clenched or worked will help lengthen the jaw muscles so they won't feel over contracted.

  • Finally, any self massage on the areas of complaint will help allow them to relax as well. Using either massage tools or even a couple of fingers on the outside of your jaw with minimal pressure is all that's needed. With self-care the TMJD may not be cured, but it can be maintained.


Treatment Options

There are a few conservative, effective options available to treat the cause and symptoms of chronic or acute TMJD.

  • Chiropractic Care can help with the alignment of your neck and jaw. By aligning joints of the neck and jaw many of the TMJ muscles get a chance to relax and release. Your chiropractor will also provide a diagnosis and treatment plan that may include the following:

  • Massage therapy on the neck and jaw can loosen the muscles and cause them to be used more optimally. Our massage therapists specialize in a 30 minute TMJD treatment that can be scheduled by itself or added to any massage.

  • Acupuncture is a great option to promote relaxation and healing in the muscles and nerves around the jaw

  • Infrared laser therapy is also an effective method that can be used on the jaw. Infrared laser therapy helps increase the healing of any injured areas.

  • Dental Care is a good option to ensure the teeth are protected from wear and tear due to clenching and grinding. Dental care can assist with alignment if necessary. Many dentists and orthodontists also have TMJ protocols.

Surgery is usually not necessary to treat TMJD and should be a last resort. These conservative methods are very effective and may allow for fewer painful days, increased function, and better range of motion. Please download our helpful handout on our downloads page for more tips and exercises.


Lisa Goodman, DC, CCSP, CACCP founded Washington Park Chiropractic in 2006 in Denver, Colorado. Dr. Goodman is a Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician (CCSP) and Certified Prenatal and Pediatric Chiropractor (CACCP). She is a CrossFit L1 and CrossFit Kids Certified Trainer. Dr. Goodman incorporates sports chiropractic techniques with prenatal and pediatric patients, she teaches mobility and taping classes locally, and is a contributor to POPSUGAR, Urban Life Wash Park and DC Aligned. She is an instructor at Logan University's Masters of Science in Integrative Pediatrics program. She is a member of the ACA Pediatrics Council and the ACA Sports Council. Areas of special interest include prenatal care, ankle and wrist injuries, instrument assisted soft tissue techniques, strength training, and pediatric fitness. Stay connected with Dr. Goodman on Instagram @washparkchiro or @lisakgoodman

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