A recipe for jaw pain by Nick Black, Physiotherapist

The fact of the matter is jaw pain can be down right miserable. Talking and eating are two of our most important functions in daily life and the jaw plays a large role in both. If wrapping your teeth around a big juicy Okanagan apple has lost its sweet satisfying crunch and been replaced by pain, then seek some help.
Many structures in and around the jaw can contribute to pain. The teeth and their attachment to the jaw and skull are obvious contributors that your dentist is well equipped in managing. Infection or dysfunction within the ears, sinuses, salivary glands or lymph nodes are problems best addressed by your family doctor. However, other structures such as the jaw joint (temporomandibular joint) and associated ligaments and tendons are common contributors to jaw pain that are often left untreated. Dysfunction in the neck can also refer pain and/or dysfunction to the jaw. Another, often overlooked contributor to jaw pain, is the effects of our mental health. It is well documented that stress, anxiety, exhaustion or depression will not only effect our head and neck postures but also how the nervous system reacts to messages sent from dysfunctional tissues, such as those in and around the jaw. A sensitized nervous system can increase one’s experience of pain.
Pain is complex but treatment doesn’t have to be. An assessment by your family doctor, dentist or physiotherapist with special interest in temporomandibular dysfunction will ensure you are referred to the correct health professional for managing your problem. If the problem relates to dysfunction of the jaw joint, the first step is to address any habits outside of normal jaw function, such as teeth grinding, pen chewing or jaw clenching. A restriction in joint mobility is common, affecting your mouths ability to fully open, in which case, the sleeve (capsule) of the joint is susceptible to strain and inflammation. Clicks and pops are very common but are rarely related to the cause of your pain.
Try this – gently place your finger tips about 3cm above your temples, then clench your teeth on and off. You will feel the temporalis muscle tightening under your fingers. Now gently place your fingers 5cm directly below your temples on the sides of your jaw and clench your teeth. You will feel the masseter muscles tightening. You have just located two of the most important muscles for eating. Both the temporalis and masseter muscles and their tendons are common contributors to jaw pain that respond well to hands-on soft tissue treatment techniques. In addition, many people can relate to how these muscles might be clenched a bit tighter in times of stress and anxiety, thereby contributing to the muscles overload.
The important message is that many structures, behaviours and feelings contribute to the experience of jaw pain and effective management is best achieved through identifying all factors involved.
Nick Black is a registered Physiotherapist with an interest in temporomandibular dysfunction at Sun City Physiotherapy Winfield. He can be contacted at the new Winfield location by phone: 250-766-2544 or email:winfield@suncityphysiotherapy.com