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Does your jaw hurt when you chew?

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Imagine waking up in the morning with the inability to open your mouth barely wide enough to stickLock Jaw and what to do about it out your tongue! This could be from a severe case of a TMD (tempomandibular joint disorder).The region of the body affected by this disorder is the part of the jaw near the ear, known as the Tempomandibular Joint. Less severe cases of a TMD can cause sharp pain when biting into hard foods but the jaw still opens normally.

People may experience the jaw locking either open or closed. Other symptoms include headaches, neck pain, and even ringing in the ears.

What causes this extremely painful disorder? Research has shown that most cases of TMD stem from muscular tightness, or even spasms in the jaw muscles. Less often, there is an actual problem inside the joint. The disk between the top and bottom part of the jaw can move out of position during sleep, which can cause the jaw to lock. Osteoarthritis can also form in the TMD making the jaw feel tight and achy.

Dentists and maxillofacial surgeons will often recommend a mouth guard for the top and/or bottom teeth. This helps the jaw muscles relax by keeping the teeth from grinding. These mouth guards are mostly worn at night, but with severe cases it is worn all day and only taken out to eat.

Some surgeons will refer a patient to physical therapy for jaw relaxation techniques and activities to increase the jaw range of motion to allow the mouth to open wider with less pain. “Patients just benefit from learning how to really relax their bodies,” says Dr. Ohrbach, who is also an associate professor of oral diagnostic sciences at the University at Buffalo.

This disorder is also directly related with stress levels. Patients that I have treated with a TMD report that it is a very stressful time in their life and have a hard time relaxing and sleeping because of the jaw pain. This is a viscous cycle because stress will cause a patient to clinch their teeth without knowing it and this will cause pain.

If jaw pain or difficulty opening the mouth is happening to you, contact your dentist. Most dentists and surgeons are trained in diagnosing TMJ disorders and often recommend physical therapy for 2 to 4 weeks. As someone who as treated this, I have seen fantastic results in a short period of time. The relaxation techniques and gentle range of motion activities, alone, reduce pain!

Article contributed by Krista Magnoli, PTA @ The Physical Therapy Center

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