CHRONIC JAW PAIN PROBLEMS
The most common cause of chronic jaw problems is hyper- tonicity of the muscles of mastication. Simply put, the muscles we chew with are tight and have been tight for a long time.
The result is clenching, or gritting the teeth of the bottom jaw, hard against the top teeth. It is usually an unconscious action during the day. Clenching of teeth in your sleep is often accompanied by grinding. This is known as Bruxism.
The chewing muscles have a higher number of neurological connections with the emotional centres of the brain. Therefore, any actual or perceived stress, will trigger a higher response in the muscles of the jaw than in most other muscles in the body.
Mental and emotional stress endured over months or years are the most common causes of more chronic jaw problems. In some cases the stressors can be removed, but a habit is established and the muscle memory will continue the clenching and grinding. Sometimes, even a one-off traumatic event like an accident or an emotional overload can trigger a stress response. Then somehow, this one-off incident sets up a pattern of behaviour that can govern our responses to future events – like clenching your teeth or holding your breath in stressful situations. This often happens with children, where the stress response was relevant at the time. Then as adults, the same or a similar event, while seemingly insignificant, triggers this pattern of behaviour that is ultimately bad for your health. Muscle tension and associated conditions like an over active fight or flight response are a common result of this mechanism.
OTHER COMMON CAUSES OF JAW PROBLEMS
Other causes of jaw problems include
- Functional disturbances of the neck.
- Dental problems.
The first vertebra and the temporomandibular joint (TMJ or the jaw joint) just in front of your ear are very close to each other. If there is a problem with some of the upper vertebrae of the neck, then the resulting irritation and inflammation will affect the TMJ. Also, if there is a problem with the TMJ, this can refer into the neck. Tension can then be refferred backwards and forwards between the two. You can’t fix one without fixing the other. For TMJ problems to be fully resolved you need to ensure your neck is functioning correctly. You will need to see an osteopath for this.
NEWBORNS AND CHILDREN
Newborns can have jaw problems and possible latching issues if the compression on their head has been such, that plate misalignment and compression, have not self-corrected. This can result in symptoms of a sore jaw and feeding issues. These new born issues are usually remedied by an experianced cranial osteopath. In children, there can be a worm infestation.
Traditionally, it was believed that when children ground their teeth in their sleep, they had a worm infestation in the intestinal tract. It’s not hard to imagine that suffering from this condition would cause them to try and grind them away. After a dose of anti-worm medication, the problem and the grinding go away. This is perhaps the case for some, but not for all children, who grind their teeth at night. This too could be an unconscious stress response.
Being hit in the side of the head can cause soft tissue damage and will destabalise the integrity of the TMJ. This leads to instability and problems like muscle pain and possible arthritis in the future.
Problems with teeth, either through an impacted wisdom tooth, poor oral care or infection, can refer pain into the jaw and the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Temporomandibular disorders are among the most common jaw disorders.
COMMON JAW CONDITIONS
The most common jaw conditions are:
- Clicking of the jaw.
- Pain in the muscles of the jaw.
- Pain in the jaw joint.
Generally, these are all a result of too much tension in the muscles of the jaw. Like any muscle in the body, if it is too tight, it will become painful. There is a whole physiology around joint and muscle disorders, which will be dealt with in another article.
The clicking of the jaw is a result of muscle tightness that is forcing the lower jaw hard up into the temporal bone of the skull, creating excessive compression in the joint. Within the TMJ, there is a small cartilage disc. If there is too much compression it can become dislodged. This is what happens if your jaw clicks when you open your mouth. The increased compression does not allow all the components of the TMJ to go through their normal ranges of motion, and the little slide disc gets jammed, resulting in the clicking noise.
Pain in the joint is usually a result of inflammation of the joint itself, or, of the immediate soft tissue around the joint. Both are typically the result of excessive compression. If this condition goes on for many years, it can result in degeneration of the joint and arthritis.