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Open wide, or can you? A new treatment for jaw clenchers and teeth grinders


By Lisa Buchan, 10 June 2018


Stress, yes there’s that word again, great in small doses but when it manifests in strange behaviour and aches and pains then time to get onto it.

You may be thinking why I mention stress here?

Seems to be that one of the many ways stress manifests itself in your body as we try to cope with it all is through teeth grinding and jaw clenching.

I recently attended a two day workshop on Myofascial Release of the Jaw, Face and Neck where we addressed not only the neck but muscles affecting the jaw, with fantastic results. I was most surprised to see the limited ability to open the mouth wide by some in the class.

Jaw muscles involved:

-          Masseter

-          Temporalis

-          Pterygoids, lateral and medial (not pictured below as under the Masseter)

   Photo Credit www.phoenixarizonadentristy.com 

Tension and overuse in these muscles can lead to the following:

-          Excessive wear and tear on the teeth

-          Damage to the articular disc (cartilage) in the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) leading to clicking

-          Tension headaches and migraines

-          Reduced range of motion in jaw

-          Lockjaw (also seen in patients with Tetanus)

TMJ is loosely thrown around as having a problem with the jaw but what does that mean, we all have a TMJ, actually two, one on each side (unless as a result of trauma, disease or congenital birth defect) and both should function normally allowing the jaw to open quite wide with smooth and even motion. Your TMJ is the joint just in front of your ear between the Temporal bone and the Mandible bone, the hinge of your jaw. The more correct term to use when experiencing problems is TMJ Dysfunction or TMD.

Clicky Jaw?

The cause of clicking in the jaw is when the articular disc has slipped forward out of its normal position and the head of the mandible jumps over it when movement in the jaw occurs. In time this slipped disc can lead to the formation of a pseudo disc to compensate. What happens then is the clicking may cease but you will likely get restriction in movement.

What to do?

Releasing tension in the muscles mentioned above as well as the neck can lead to restoring more normal function to the jaw, as well as a reduction of pain.

Massage or myofascial techniques can be applied externally to the Masseter and Temporalis but then I highly recommend intra-oral treatment to both of the Pterygoids, it is relatively non invasive just slipping inside the mouth of the outside of your teeth until we reach the muscles at the back of the teeth, the Lateral Pterygoid in particular can be a little tender to start but the outcome is well worth it. A trip to the Dentist for a mouth piece to protect your teeth is often very helpful too.

The physiotherapist I teamed up with on the course had such restricted movement that by the end of day two, following neck and jaw treatment, he couldn’t stop smiling and walking around opening his mouth wide, it was very exciting to see how much impact can be made by such simple techniques.

There are so many more muscles involved with the jaw, I’ve just touched on a few  here but more and more I realise that treating these muscles more thoroughly is helping to ease neck tension as they are so closely related.

On a final note I will mention that while these techniques are very effective and helpful what also needs to be addressed is the cause of the stress in your life and what is causing the teeth grinding, clenching, muscular tension. We can definitely enhance and maintain a more normal level of function in your muscle tissue but without actively seeking a way to remedy the stressors then they may never go away completely, however if you’re already managing your stress but can’t get rid of these niggles then this could be the answer, another piece of the puzzle solved. 

Either way a win win situation.

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